bible-wornThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version Anglicised (ESVUK) with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

1 Timothy 3:8-13

Qualifications for Deacons

Deacons likewise must be dignified, not double-tongued,[a] not addicted to much wine, not greedy for dishonest gain. They must hold the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience. 10 And let them also be tested first; then let them serve as deacons if they prove themselves blameless. 11 Their wives likewise must[b] be dignified, not slanderers, but sober-minded, faithful in all things. 12 Let deacons each be the husband of one wife, managing their children and their own households well. 13 For those who serve well as deacons gain a good standing for themselves and also great confidence in the faith that is in Christ Jesus.


Last week’s post concluded a three-part series — 1, 2, 3 — on the first seven verses of 1 Timothy 3, the qualifications for overseers, or principal church leaders.

Anyone wanting more information on the qualifications here for deacons can consult those posts, which are quite detailed.

I shall design this post slightly differently because of the subject matter.

What is a deacon?

Our two commentators have slightly divergent views on deacons.

Matthew Henry, rightly, in my opinion, points us to Acts 6 (emphases mine):

We have here the character of deacons: these had the care of the temporal concerns of the church, that is, the maintenance of the ministers and provision for the poor: they served tables, while the ministers or bishops gave themselves only to the ministry of the word and prayer, Acts 6 2, 4. Of the institution of this office, with that which gave occasion to it, you have an account in Acts 6 1-7. Now it was requisite that deacons should have a good character, because they were assistants to the ministers, appeared and acted publicly, and had a great trust reposed in them.

I understand why John MacArthur disagrees. Technically, he is also right:

we don’t have any specifics about the office of deacon at all until we get to 1 Timothy.

Now, somebody immediately is going to say, “What about Acts 6?”

So, let’s turn to Acts 6. This is a fascinating account, and most people who have advocated the diakonate in the church have felt that Acts 6 is where it was born, and that you have in Acts 6 the first deacons. But there are several things to note. The one thing I want you to remember here is this: in Acts 6, the seven men chosen by the Church for the work here are never called deacons. They are never called deacons …

At and after the first Pentecost, there were converts among Jews from Jerusalem as well as Greek Jews from elsewhere in the ancient world. There were a lot of widows in both Jewish groups, and the Greeks felt those from Jerusalem were more favoured than they.

As such, a collection for widows and food provision had to be more efficient:

Verse 2, “The Twelve called the multitude of the disciples to them and said, ‘It’s not right or fitting’” – proper – “‘that we should leave the Word of God and serve tables.’” Now, here is a line of demarcation. Some people in the church need to be doing the Word of God, and other people need to be taking care of the business.

That line of demarcation does stand when you get to the pastoral epistles. “We’ve got to do what we’ve got to do, and we’ve got to find somebody to do the rest.” It was not the apostle’s priority to leave the Word to serve food. They’ve got thousands upon thousands of people. Remember this; they’re all brand new converts. They’re from all over the world, and these 12 men are trying to get them all discipled before they leave. They had a tremendous task on their hands, and they really didn’t want to get stuck trying to figure out how to bring equity and parody to the matter of food distribution.

So, they wanted to get somebody else to do that, verse 3, “Wherefore, brethren, look among you and find seven men who are honest” – obviously, they’re going to have a lot of money on their hands – “full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom” – why do they need the Spirit and wisdom? Because they’re going to have to discern where real need exists – “and we’ll appoint them over this task.” Over this task.

Notice that they were appointed for a specific task. There’s no office here; there’s no ongoing function here. We’re going to get them to figure out how to do this task, this – may I be so bold? – one task. “And we” – verse 4 – “will continue to give ourselves to prayer and the diakonia of the Word. The only use of the term diakonia here is in reference to the apostles. And then back in verse 1, in reference to the daily diakonia of serving the widows.

Nowhere does it call these men deacons. The apostles were doing their deaconing, their serving, and the people passing out food were doing their serving, too. But these are not called deacons specifically. It is interesting to note that in the early Church in Rome – I shouldn’t say the early Church, the post-apostolic church of Rome – only allowed seven deacons. They picked up on this and made it the standard, and they had seven deacons in the church at Rome for the purpose of passing out goods to the poor. But I don’t believe that this is intended by the Spirit of God to establish some kind of ongoing order. I don’t think these seven men chosen were deacons. Look at verse 5, “The saying pleased the whole multitude; and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit” – that was the qualification – “Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas, a proselyte from Antioch.”

So, they chose seven men. Now, with that in mind, I want you to kind of grasp the thought. It isn’t a major issue, but just so you have it in your mind. The reason I don’t think these are actual deacons is, number one, the term is general, and it is just a general speaking here of service. The only reference to actual diakonia connected with certain individuals is in verse 4, and the diakonia there is connected with the apostles. The New Testament – and watch this – never again refers to these seven as a diakonate as a group of deacons. In fact, the book if Acts never ever mentions the word “deacon.” They never appear again. If this was some kind of new order of deacons, they should have popped up again and again, particularly in chapter 11, when the famine went on, and when they wanted the food to be cared for in the famine, it says they were to give it to the elders – Acts 11:29 – not the deacons, because there were no deacons.

You say, “Well, if they aren’t deacons, what are they?”

They’re just some men chosen for a specific task. Honest so they could handle money, full of the Spirit and wisdom so they could discern where the needs were. They were seven men chosen for a one-time crisis, not necessarily installed into a full-time office. If they were being instituted as deacons here, you could be sure they would have appeared later on in the book of Acts someplace. And probably, as I said in Acts 11, in dealing with the famine

Another interesting thing is all seven of them have Greek names. If they were an ongoing group of deacons for the church at Jerusalem, it would have been a little bit strange that they would have all been Greek Jews. But if they are appointed for one specific task, to relieve Greek Jewish widows, then it makes sense that they would choose Greeks to do that. That would move toward equity. So, special task.

But keep this in mind, there is a preliminary sense here in which we’re getting a look at what deacons will be like, because you have apostles here whose thing is the Word and prayer, and deacons who take care of implementation of certain tasks. And that kind of structure does carry into the church. The elders of 1 Timothy do emphasize the word and the oversight, and the deacons do emphasize the implementation and application. So, that kind of – that kind of relationship continues to exist.

The comparison of these things then shows us that deacons did have I guess what you could say a historic precedent in Acts 6, but that they were not in specific actual deacons. In fact, in many ways, they were more like elders. Let me show you why. Look at verse 6, “They prayed, laid hands on them” – and then verse 7 – “and the Word of God increased.”

Now, why did it increase? Well, first of all, I think it increased because the apostles were free from serving tables to make it increase. Right? The apostles were free to do what they felt they had to do, and that was spend their time in the Word and prayer. “The number of disciples multiplied in Jerusalem greatly, a great number of the priests were obedient to the faith.” But another reason why it multiplied was not just the work of the apostles, but look at this, “And Stephen” – who may well be representative of the other six – “full of grace and power, did great wonders and miracles among the people.” Now, could it well be that the other six did the same. Could it be that these were anything but deacons in the traditional sense? These were Holy Spirit-empowered evangelists who went out into that city doing signs and wonders and mighty deeds; teaching, preaching, evangelizing; full of faith, full of the Spirit, full of power, performing wonders.

Now, we know that at least one other of them was a powerful wonder-working preacher, and that one was Philip, for he’s mentioned as such as you come over to chapter 8. Two of the seven we know were powerful preachers. It may well be that the other five were involved in such a ministry also. So, they would be more like apostles, more like evangelists than they would be like the actual role of deacon as we understand it in the pastoral epistles.

MacArthur explains that the word ‘deacon’ in Greek implies service and/or ministry. All Christians are called to serve God on earth in some capacity — even informally — but not all Christians serve as deacons in the way that Paul specifies:

Look at Romans chapter 12, and here we find these terms used of something a bit more specific. In Romans chapter 12, there is a list here of varying gifts given to the body of Christ, and we all know about the spiritual gifts; we’ve taught much about that through the years.

It says in verse 6 – verse 4 says, “We’re all in one body, but we don’t all have the same function. We are many, and we have differing gifts. They differ according to the grace” – that is – that’s God’s grace; God has graciously given us differing gifts. Then he goes on to discuss prophecy and those who have that gift should operate according to the proportion of faith given for the use of that gift. And then he says if the gift is of ministry, then we need to be concentrating on our ministry.

Now, the ministry and ministering in verse 7 is again the same word group diakonia, diakonos, diakoneō. It’s the same thing. So, he’s saying here that there are special gifts of service, special gifts of serving. It would be parallel to his mention of the gift of helps in 1 Corinthians. There are some people who are just a – I guess you could say a cut above everybody else because they are uniquely designed by God to serve.

So, you start with that broad level. Everybody is in the service of Christ. There are some, however, who are specially gifted to function in that way. It doesn’t mean the rest of us don’t do it; it just means that they do it in a unique sense. They serve a special way of life, energized by the Spirit of God.

For example, to meet such person or more than one, look at 1 Corinthians 16. This is an interesting characterization. It says in 1 Corinthians 16:15, just a rather incidental thought here, but it’s germane to our point. At the end of this great epistle, he speaks of a very specific family. “I beseech you, brethren (you know the house of Stephanas, that it is the first fruits of Achaia)” – that is the first converts in the province of Achaia, and look at this – “(and that they have devoted themselves to the diakonia of the saints).” Now, it just may well be that here is a family in which all are serving and perhaps some are uniquely gifted. And so, their whole family is characterized as those who serve the saints

You are [obliged] to serve as a way of life. Some of you are specially gifted for that. And that must be recognized as well.

So, the term can be used generally. It can be used a bit more specifically to refer to those who in the exercise of their spiritual gifts are placed in positions of faithful service, assisting and helping others in menial and common areas of responsibility.

Now, that’s really – that’s really the sweep of everything that dominates the New Testament relative to the area of service. It’s just very general, and then especially those that are gifted.

But what about deacons? Well, deacons don’t even appear, in my judgment, in any definition, until 1 Timothy 3, and only in 1 Timothy 3. It is the only discussion of the specific office. So, we would say, then, there’s a third category. Everybody is serving on this level, some people on the next step up are uniquely gifted, and then the next step up would be those who are in the office of a servant in the church, and we know them as deacons, though they well could be called Servants with a capital S.

So, you have three levels of service in the church: that which is rendered by everyone, that which is rendered by those uniquely gifted by the Spirit for it, and that which is done by those who are officially placed in an office of service and become the leaders and the models of service for everybody else in the church.

Another complication is that some churches have elders, whose functions lie between those of pastors and deacons.

If you, like I, don’t know about elders, MacArthur explains the difference between them, deacons and overseers (pastors). The one thing that they do have in common is top-notch spirituality:

Deacons are the models of spiritual virtue. They stand, in that sense, alongside the elders. There’s no diminishing. You don’t have elders here, and deacons here spiritually. The elders have the authority because they carry the power of the Word of God in their teaching emphasis. But the deacons from the standpoint of spiritual modeling are equal. In fact, there’s no difference between the spiritual qualifications of the two.

So, these are to be equally godly men, but men whose strength is not in the teaching area. That’s the difference. That’s where a pastor and an elder and an overseer steps apart. His overall responsibility is in the ruling of the church through the authority of the understanding and proclamation of the Word of God. But right alongside him come those who implement what he teaches, who implement the ministry, and whose lives are no less godly than his. And the reason is to pull the whole congregation to that level, not to set those people apart and say, “Well, they’re the abnormal pious ones; none of us could ever be expected to live like that.” Quite the contrary. The message of what a deacon is to be is a message of what you and I are to be, because they’re there to model that for us …

you don’t look at it and say, “Well, there’s a guy with a messed up life; we better not make him an elder; we’ll make him a deacon.” That isn’t it at all. The people from the spiritual standpoint are at the same level; the qualifications are the same. It is that they carry out the function that is designed by and led by the overseers in the church. It’s a beautiful, beautiful way that God has designed their leadership.

MacArthur says that, unlike overseers, women can also be deacons:

And may I hasten to say that I believe, with all my heart, that deacons have to be – and whether they’re male or female – considered as leaders in the church. They are leaders. They lead by example; they lead by function. They are leaders in the church. Every church needs not only the pastoral leadership but the servant leadership. We couldn’t get anything done if it weren’t for these marvelous deacons – men and women – who carry out the administration, in the implementation, and the application. I believe, for example, that you can have a group of elders who spend all their time studying the Word of God, and under them all the administrators of the church can be deacons.

I’m not quite convinced of his reasoning there where it’s okay for deacons but not overseers to be women, however, he explains it more when we get to verse 11.


Now let’s explore today’s reading.

Paul says that, just like overseers — ‘likewise’ — deacons must be dignified, not double-tongued, not addicted to much wine and not greedy for dishonest gain (verse 8).

This is what Matthew Henry’s translation says:

Likewise must the deacons be grave, not doubletongued, not given to much wine, not greedy of filthy lucre;

‘Grave’ here means ‘serious’.

Henry tells us:

Gravity becomes all Christians, but especially those who are in the office in the church. Not doubled-tongued; that will say one thing to one and another thing to another, according as their interests leads them: a double tongue comes from a double heart; flatterers and slanderers are double-tongued. Not given to much wine; for this is a great disparagement to any man, especially to a Christian, and one in office, unfits men for business, opens the door to many temptations. Not greedy of filthy lucre; this would especially be bad in the deacons, who were entrusted with the church’s money, and, if they were covetous and greedy of filthy lucre, would be tempted to embezzle it, and convert that to their own use which was intended for the public service.

MacArthur has more:

Number one, in verse 8, “The deacon is to be grave.” The word is semnos, it means “serious.” It could be translated “dignified.” It could be translated “stately.” It has the idea of being serious in mind as well as serious in character. It comes from a root verb sebōmai, which means “to venerate” or “to worship.” It has the idea that this person has a stateliness about them that demands a respect. They have a sort of a – and I don’t want to stretch the point – but they have a sort of majestic quality of character that makes people stand in awe of them.

Another word that is often a synonym is the word hieroprepēs, which means “to act like a sacred person.” This is a person who by virtue of their life character spiritually has a certain mystique about them. There’s a certain awe held in the hearts of those who know them because of the integrity of their spiritual life. It’s a very beautiful word and a very important designation.

So to begin with, one who serves as a deacon is to be one who could be held in awe as having a majesty of dignity, of life that comes to one who understands the seriousness of spiritual issues. This particular person would not be a flippant person, not be a silly person, not be a frivolous person, not be a person who makes light of very serious things, not be a person engaged in trivia as a way of life, not be a person who is trite; a person with dignity, a person who understands the seriousness of life. And I confess to you, as I’ve said before, that the older I get, the more seriousness life takes on.

MacArthur elaborates on the negative traits in that verse:

And then after that very positive affirmation of personal character, three negatives come in verse 8. The second of these four personal character qualifications is not double-tongued. This is the only place in the Scripture where this word appears, dilogos; and it is simply what it says: two-tongued, two-tongued. Now what is a two-tongued person? Well, we might say this is a gossipy person, somebody who doesn’t just have one tongue going, but two tongues going, which might indicate some kind of rapid fire discussion of things that perhaps ought not to be said.

But the best way to translate this word, to keep it in its simplest meaning, is to refer to a person who isn’t saying one thing to one person and another thing to another. In other words, a double-tongued person is telling me something and someone else something quite the opposite of that to gain his own personal or her own personal goals. The idea here is integrity of speech. Because those who serve in the church are privy to very private matters, because they know well very grave spiritual issues, because they are dealing with things that people would like to keep private in their own lives, because they’re a part of spiritual warfare at very intense levels, they need to be the kind of people who know how to speak when you should speak, and to speak with integrity whenever you speak.

There’s a always a high, high premium on verbal honesty and integrity among spiritual leaders, not to speak hypocritically, but to speak consistently, righteously, honestly, uprightly

… the person in leadership is to have great integrity of speech. Nothing is more devastating than to tell one person one thing and someone else the very opposite for your own personal gain, or to protect yourself, and thus begin the process of spinning lies among God’s people. Truth is at a premium.

The third qualification is not given too much wine. That’s the translation we have in the Authorized. The Greek would say “not holding near much wine, not holding near much wine.” You say, “Why doesn’t it just say, ‘Not holding wine at all’?” Well, because wine was a matter of a common drink.

Admittedly, we know now very clearly that it was mixed with water. In fact, sometimes it could be ten-to-one water. It was very, very greatly and largely water. And the reason for that was, of course, to prevent intoxication. And they had to drink the fruit of the vine, the fruit of whatever they were able to get out of their land, because that’s the only basic drink they had. And so it was caution that had to be expressed in regard to wine. And anyone in spiritual leadership, as we saw with the elders, was not to give himself to wine. And that same qualification is expressed here.

Prosechō means “to hold near.” Or if you use it in a metaphorical sense, it means “to turn one’s mind to,” or “to occupy oneself with.” The person is not to be occupied with much wine. Of necessity to drink some, given that it would be diluted with water, yes, but not to be indulgent.

And the present active nature of the participle means this is to be his habitual practice. Habitually he is to be known as a person who is not holding near much wine. In other words, this is a person who basically does not allow drink to influence his life, or her life. And in this case, of course, we’re talking about the male, as we shall see the contrast in verse 11 when the female is introduced …

But the point is the same. This is to be a person who, in terms of life pattern according to verse 8, is serious, a person who speaks with great integrity, and a person who is control of their sense at all times. And then fourthly, one who is not greedy of filthy lucre. In other words, who is not greedy for gain, for money. Why? Because in those days, those who served in the church in an official capacity would be handling funds.

They would be passing out money to widows, to orphans, to needy people. They would be making collections. They would be dealing with the funds, paying whatever they had to pay to this place or that place, providing meals and so forth. And there were no bank accounts, and there were no audit firms, and so forth and so on; so everything was a cash transaction, and the people who handled the money actually had a little purse on their belt and in it was the money; and the temptation would always be there to stick your hand in the bag and use the money for your own purposes. And so they had to be those people who were not motivated by money, who were free from the love of it.

Now those are all things about character: doesn’t love money, doesn’t linger by wine, doesn’t speak dishonestly, and has seriousness of mind and conduct.

Paul says that deacons must hold the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience (verse 9).

Henry says:

The practical love of truth is the most powerful preservative from error and delusion. If we keep a pure conscience (take heed of every thing that debauches conscience, and draws us away from God), this will preserve in our souls the mystery of faith.

MacArthur discusses ‘mystery’ in this context:

The word “mystery,” mustērion, Paul uses it very often, and what he means by it is “something that was hidden and is not revealed.” In fact, he gives that very definition in Ephesians chapter 3: something which was hidden and is not revealed. And when you sum it all up, the mystery of the faith is that truth which was hidden and is now revealed; therefore it equals New Testament revelation, that which was hidden from the past generations before the coming of Christ. It is God’s redemptive truth revealed in the New Testament; the sacred things hidden from natural reason known only by the revelation of God, hidden from Old Testament saints, known only by the revelation of God …

So basically what it means is Christian doctrine, New Testament theology, New Testament truth, New Testament revelation and doctrine. It encompasses the mystery of the incarnation of Christ, which was hidden and is now revealed; the mystery of the indwelling Christ, of the Jew and Gentile, one in Christ, of the saving gospel … There were many elements of it illustrated through the New Testament Scripture, but the body of content totally is all New Testament revelation. To put it simply, Matthew to Revelation; that is the unveiling of the hidden truth now revealed in the New Testament.

So the deacon then must hold to New Testament revelation. He has to be a New Testament, doctrinally-oriented individual, who knows and understands truth revealed in the new covenant. This is of great concern to Paul. All the way through this epistle he makes a major point out of sound doctrine, good teaching.

As for conscience, MacArthur says:

The stronger your theology, the stronger your conscience. The more you understand about the Bible, and the stronger your faith and belief, the stronger your conscience. To say it another way; when a person who really has strong doctrine and strong theology, and holds to the mystery of the faith with great strength violates that doctrine, they have a very strong conscience reprimanding them. You show me a person who is weak in conviction and I’ll show you a person with a weak conscience, because conscience reacts to the body of truth the person is committed to. If I am not committed to truth, if I just flow and vacillate, my conscience has no standard by which to accuse me.

We often hear someone say in looking at a terrible crime or a terrible sin or something that someone has done, we say, “Haven’t they got any” – what? – “conscience? Has that person no conscience?” The answer is, “Yes, they have a conscience, but conscience responds to standards.”

… “I live by it, therefore my conscience is pure. It is not defiled with sin. It is not accusing me.” This is the required spiritual life for a deacon.

Paul says that those wishing to serve as deacons should be tested first, and if they prove themselves blameless, then they may assume that office (verse 10).

Henry interprets the verse the way I understood it:

It is not fit that the public trusts should be lodged in the hands of any, till they have been first proved, and found fit for the business they are to be entrusted with; the soundness of their judgments, their zeal for Christ, and the blamelessness of their conversation, must be proved.

However, MacArthur says that the testing is ongoing, just as continuing refinement would be:

Look at verse 10 just quickly: “And let these also” – that’s an imperative verb, by the way – “let these also first be tested,” dokimazō, to approve after testing. “Let them be tested.” It’s a present passive, which means it’s an ongoing test, not an aorist, which would be some kind of a probationary period or a point in time in which they were tested. This is an ongoing thing.

“Let them continually be being tested,” would be a way to translate it. “Let them continually be being tested; and then” – another imperative – “let them serve as a deacon.” And that’s just one verb. “Let them diakoneō. So in terms of Christian service, they are to be being tested.

Now what test is this? This is nothing more than the ongoing general assessment of the church as they evaluate the service of this person. They are being tested at all times by the basis of their own service to Christ. It is not a one-time test, it is not a written test, it is not a probationary period; it is the ongoing evaluation.

Would you circle the little word “also” in verse 10, because this jumps back and makes application of this same truth to the elders. “These also are to be tested,” which means that it is assumed that the elder or the pastor would be tested as well. We want to make that affirmation.

So everyone is tested, and the testing is an ongoing process. We have done this for many years in Grace Church. We watch people, and we see their spiritual service, their Christian ministry, how they live for Christ. And over a period of time as we evaluate their service to Christ, we are rendering a verdict on whether they have been approved through that testing period. Those who are deacons are tested and proven people. It is a process.

So qualification then is a matter of personal character, spiritual life, and Christian service. Fourthly, moral purity. The end of verse 10 introduces us to a familiar word we met in verse 2: They are to be blameless, being blameless. Again, the qualification is not lower for a servant. The service is different, the function is different. It is carrying out what the elders design. But the qualification is the same: blameless.

… That is to be without reproach, no blot on their life, without spot, without blemish, nothing for which they could be accused and disqualified. There’s, in a sense, not only the moral purity of the heart, but the moral purity of perception which renders them without blame.

Verse 11 says ‘their wives’ must also be dignified, not slanderers, but sober-minded and faithful in all things.

Henry understands the verse as written. This is how it appears in his translation:

Even so must their wives be grave, not slanderers, sober, faithful in all things.

He says:

All who are related to ministers must double their care to walk as becomes the gospel of Christ, lest, if they in any thing walk disorderly, the ministry be blamed.

However, MacArthur says this doesn’t refer to the deacon’s wife but rather to a female deacon:

So far we’ve been talking about men. But notice verse 11. Without looking almost we sort of skip by what Paul just dropped in there. I don’t know why he put it in before verse 12, I’m not sure there’s any way we can explain it, but he did; it’s there. And I want you to understand verse 11, because it’s such a wonderful one: “Even so” is the word “likewise” or “in like manner,” the very same word as verse 8; and that indicates to us that we are now coming to a third category of people.

Now you will notice that it is translated in the Authorized with some italics, “Even so must their wives.” Let me say that I think that is an inadequate translation. In the first place, there’s no word in the Greek for “wives.” This is the word gunaikas, which means “women.”

And it doesn’t say “their women.” It could say that in the Greek. There is a word for “their,” and the apostle Paul could have said that if the Holy Spirit wanted him to say it, but he didn’t. It actually says, “Likewise women.” That’s all it says in the Greek, “Likewise women.”

The question is, “What women? Are they the wives of the deacons, as some interpreters believe, or are they just women who also serve in the church in a deacon capacity?” That’s the question we have to answer; and I think it can be simply answered.

The best translation here is “women,” because that’s the translation of the word. The reason that I’m not at all convinced that this could possibly be the wives of deacons is manifold. Number one: Why would there be qualifications for the wives of deacons and not qualifications for the wives of elders who have an even more important responsibility? Why would he isolate the wives of deacons and not say anything at all about the wives of the overseers?

Secondly, the use of “likewise” in verse 11 means we have a new category, because it was used in verse 8 of a new category. First overseers, likewise deacons, likewise women. And this is to say to me that the church is to recognize that there is a group of women who serve in the church. If he wanted to say “their women,” he could have used the word “their.” But he didn’t use it.

You say, “Well, why didn’t he use deaconesses?” Because there’s no Greek word for that. That’s why Phoebe, a woman in Romans 16:1 is called a deacon, because there’s no feminine form. So the only word he could use if he had used – if he had said, “Likewise deacons,” and meant “women,” we never would have known he meant “women,” because the word is not feminine. There was no word for “wives,” so the only word he could use was “women,” and the way he tells us this is a new category is with “likewise.”

So clearly he’s introducing … I kind of prefer to call them “women deacons,” because that maintains the New Testament terminology a bit better. “Women deacons.” He just drops this right in the middle of his discussion of deacons as a new category.

Paul says deacons — male deacons, in this verse — must each be the husband of one wife, managing their children and their households well (verse 12). He said the same of overseers. This is because both are to set the best example for the congregation to follow.

Paul concludes by saying that deacons who serve well gain a good standing — reputation — for themselves and also great confidence in the faith that is in Christ Jesus (verse 13).

Henry says that it is not unusual for deacons to progress eventually to the priesthood:

… the reason why the deacons must be thus qualified is (v. 13) because, though the office of a deacon be of an inferior degree, yet it is a step towards the higher degree; and those who had served tables well the church might see cause afterwards to discharge from that service, and prefer to serve in preaching the word and in prayer. Or it may be meant of the good reputation that a man would gain by his fidelity in this office: they will purchase to themselves great boldness in the faith that is in Christ Jesus …

Integrity and uprightness in an inferior office are the way to be preferred to a higher station in the church: They purchase to themselves a good degree ... This will also give a man great boldness in the faith, whereas a want of integrity and uprightness will make a man timorous, and ready to tremble at his own shadow. The wicked fleeth when no man pursueth, but the righteous are bold as a lion, Prov 28 1.

In the Catholic and Anglican churches, deacons are formally ordained. This brief paper, ‘Discerning the Diaconate’, explains what Anglican clergy look for in a deacon.

Paul ends 1 Timothy 3 with a brief discussion of the mystery of godliness.

Next time — 1 Timothy 3:14-16