Wednesday, February 13, 2013


Most of the Southern Baptist churches in which I've ministered across the years and even the churches I've pastored until 1990 operated under the concept that both deacons and pastors were functioning offices in the church that were to be held by men only and were a kind of ruling body by virtue of the biblical authority vested in those offices. Now, I know we said we were a congregational church, and to a degree that was true, but there was this underlying belief that if you happened to be a deacon or pastor you had a tad more [if not a LOT more] authority than did the average church member. After all, you did hold a church office

That belief was then written into most of our church constitutions where we clearly outlined the responsibilities of the offices mentioned above vesting certain responsibilities and authority in those offices legally. By the way, a logical result of this belief was that it also necessitated an ordination that was reserved for those two offices

When asked where in scripture do you find this idea of offices, its advocates [of which I was one for years as I've confessed] would state that it all started with the selection of deacons found in the Acts 6 passage where men were chosen to help meet the needs of some who were not being properly ministered to. The fact that the phrase office of deacon is NOT to be found in that passage did not discouraged me and others at the time as we had made an office out of deacon and we said that if the office is not named in Acts 6 , it is at least illustrated with that passage.

There is a Greek word that is translated into the English word deacon and it is the Greek word Diakonos which is simply a reference to serving. I've come to see that word does occur in Acts 6. In fact, it occurs twice, But I now see it in a new light. Let me explain.

First, in verse 2 it refers to the Apostles when it says they WERE NOT to "serve [there is that Greek word, diakonos] tables." But it is also referring to the Apostles in verse 4 where it is said they WERE to "minister [there it is again, diakonos] the Word of God. "  That word is used  BOTH TIMES for those servants of the word of God and the servants of the tables with the Apostles being the point of what was said. For me and others to have made a case that the office of deacon is really found there, is a bit dubious, to say the least.

Now I've come to see that my new understanding is made even clearer because of the time Paul referred to himself as "servant [there it is again, diokonos] of the Lord," [1 Corinthians 3:5.] as well as a "servant of God," [11 Corinthians 3:6] "of the new covenant," [11 Corinthians 3"6] "of the gospel," [Eph 3:7, Col 1:23] and even "a servant of the church." [Col 1:25]

Paul also called his co-workers diakonos [servants] such as Tychicus, Timothy, Epaphras in verses found in Eph 6:21, Col 4:7, and 1 Tim 4:6.  Among those co-workers he also listed Phoebe, a woman. [Although the KJV translated the Greek word diakonos as "helper" in her case. All those people were spoken of using the word deacon. That's interesting!]

Jesus even said ALL His followers were to be diakonos. [Matt 20:26, Jn 12:26]  He was simply saying all His followers were to have a servant's spirit in all they do. Now remember, this is EXACTLY the same word for deacon.

So I had to ask myself the question, how do I make an office out of any of this? I shouldn't! It isn't there at all. And there is certainly not a HINT of authority over others because of being identified as a diakonos. Quite the contrary, it displays someone who is nothing like a "boss" at all.

Then where DID I get the idea of offices and of having authority because someone holds an office, in scripture? I didn't just make it up did I!

There are a couple of places where the KJV translates the word diakonos in a way that, if honesty prevails, I've come to see goes WAY BEYOND what the text intends. One of those places is 1 Timothy 3:13 where Paul says:

"For they that have used the "office of a deacon" well purchase to themselves a good degree, and the great boldness in the faith which is in Christ Jesus."

The words, "have used the office of deacon" were all used by the KJV translators to define the one Greek word diakoneo, which is translated by A. H. Strong as: "To be a servant, attendant, domestic, to serve, to wait upon. W. E, Vines assertively adds this, "The Revised Version rightly omits "office" and translates the verb diakoneo to mean simply to serve." So, as you can see, Vines also states that the word "office" is not found in the text. The word diakonos [deacon] is found but not the word office

If that weren't bad enough, many people say that since Paul used the word "likewise" with deacons in verse eight of that same chapter, he was making it to mean the same as he had said about the Bishops office in 1 Timothy 3:1. There he had said that the "office of Bishop" was something to desire so, when he said, "likewise" he meant we are to view deacons as an office also since it follows 3:1. The only problem is the word "office" doesn't appear in verse one with episkopos [Bishop] any more than it does in verse 13 where it is referencing diakonos. It was read into the verse by the translators.

A proper translation of 1 Timothy 3;1 is simply this: "If a person sets their heart on overseeing, it is an honorable work they desire to do."

So, permit me to restate the problem I've found with the word "office" in the KJV and a few other English versions that follow it in translating the New Testament. It has become obvious to me that the King James Version has a bias reflecting their culture at the time, and its scholars attempted to keep a hierarchical view of authority alive and well in the KJV. That system is not found in scripture at all however, but is read into it by the translators which we call eisegesis [reading into] instead of exegesis [extracting out of] and does not serve well the true meaning of the text. So I had some thinking to do. 

Does this mean there are not to be deacons and pastors in the church as far as the scriptures are comcerned? I found quite the contrary! There are people who serve in various ministries, including some who are busy waiting [diakonos] on tables AND others who are busy serving up [diakonos] a tasty feast of the Word of God. But what can be said with certainty is that in those ministries there is no concept of "lording it over" anyone in the church.

Simply said, there are ministries that can be called pastoral, elder, bishop or even deacon ministries, but you can rest assured, if they're truly biblical, they will look different than a cultural concept of being the "boss" and they are NOT offices. The authority they have, I now understand, is the authority of Christ that rests upon them as they minister and I am to choose within to be led by them in whatever way they are functioning. We all minister, we all share Christ's authority and we're all members of the body of which HE IS THE HEAD.

The scriptural model for Church life is one of gifted people, anointed by the Spirit, recognized by the people, functioning as a gift to the whole of the local body while teaching ALL the body to do the work of ministry as described in Ephesians 4:11-13. That is far different than a couple of office holders doing the work of ministry and all the people told what to do by those in office. But it takes moving from a view of the church as an institution or organization to seeing it as an organism or a body with multiple members all with a gift to share. 

By the way, since we're in the territory, there is only one other place where the word "office" is found in the New Testament. It is Romans 12:4-5 where Paul said, "For as we have many members in one body, and all members have not the same "office": so we, being many, are one body in Christ, and everyone members one of another."

The Greek word translated "office"  in verse 4 is the Greek word  Praxis  which means a doing, a deed or a function. It's the same word found in Romans 8:13 translated "deeds." If we were to translate the word praxis as "office" in Romans 8:13 it would read, "but if you, through the Spirit, do mortify the "offices" [praxis] of the body, ye shall live." I don't think so!

So there is not a SINGLE PLACE in scripture where the word "office" is the proper translation of the Greek text.

Nuff said.

Paul B. 


Off The Cuff said...


Our Sunday School Class was discussing this subject recently.
As always, you have done an excellent job of exegesis.
Like you, I have always considered the word "office" as a duty to perform rather than a title to obtain.

God Bless,

Paul Burleson said...

Off the C,

Thanks for reading and commenting. I trust it is clear that I firmly believe in the MINISTRIES of pastoring and teaching as well as a deacon ministry. But the office idea is extra-biblical as I tried to show.

Aussie J,

I'm sorry to tell you that your excellent comment was erased instead of posted because of my STUBBY FINGERS hitting the wrong key.

If you can and would, please comment again and I'll be more careful in comment moderation.Thanks.

Aussie John said...


"STUBBY FINGERS"? Come on mate! It's old age :)

Of course, that very same malaise is what prevents me from repeating what I last wrote!

Mind you! From those "STUBBY FINGERS" come great writing such as this article, and for which I'm thankful of the effort which is expended.

When I think about what you have written on the traditional teaching regarding "office", as well as an article I'm posting this morning, I'm reminded of 1 Tim 1:3-7, when Paul said, "Certain persons, by swerving from these, have wandered away into vain discussion, desiring to be teachers of the law, without understanding either what they are saying or the things about which they make confident assertions."

I'm also reminded of a deacon in a church in which I was leading the first deacons meeting since my appointment. I thought I would make a good start by doing a Bible study on the word diakonos.

One deacon was sitting opposite me and I apparently pressed some buttons when I mentioned the word "servant". He shot up to his feet and said in a loud voice,"I am the servant of no man!"

Paul Burleson said...

Aussie J,

Great comment and, by the way, I pastored that same deacon one time. LOL

Lee said...

So many churches find themselves on the verge of real revival, and real spiritual renewal, and yet, can't seem to get there. I think you've hit the nail on the head, at least in one area, that answers the question about why things are the way they are. A lot of those who managed to get into church leadership have a personal agenda. And the idea that they hold some kind of official authority allows them to push it, rather than listen to the spirit.

What you've outlined here is the very essence of congregationalism. And how important it is to trust the scripture, and know what it really says instead of what a translator wants you to think. Thanks.