Sunday, March 23, 2014


Last time I mentioned that there are a couple of false concepts from my perspective that are held by many, especially leaders in local churches, that have fostered a propagating of the belief about church authority making it a " being over" thing rather than a true biblical pattern of "serving one another" thing.

One of those concepts is an unfortunate division between clergy and laity where the former does the work of ministry and the latter pays the salary of the former as a kind of professional minister. Though I would think there is nothing wrong with paying pastors if it isn't to buy them off as professionals who do ministry work. The other is the "office" idea for Pastor and Deacon having an authority inherent within the "office," which is simply not found in the text when correctly translated.

Neither of these concepts is the biblical viewpoint for authority in local Church life as I'm attempting to show in this now going on three part series of posts.

I'll take the second concept first.

For the first 25 years of my 50 years in pastoral ministry, I 
viewed being a "deaconas being one of several men [notice men with no reference to women] ordained to an office that was for the leading [notice leading instead of serving] of a local church. During that time I would use this phrase "office of deacon" without any hesitation at all. But with this post I will take that view first, to illustrate what I've come to believe was an unbiblical concept I held back then and unfortunately had accepted as scriptural without question.

I don't deny that there were in the New Testament some who were set aside to serve the saints in the first century church in more practical ways for the meeting of practical needs. Acts 6 certainly shows this, as well as some other passages. However, when New Testament writers used the Greek word "diakonia," [We use the English word "deacon."] to describe what was to be done within that early congregation, I'm thinking what they had in mind was what had been seen in Jesus who had "made Himself of no reputation and took upon Him the form of a servant..." [Philippians 2:7] 

They had observed Him washing the feet of His followers, feeding the multitudes, healing the sick, always being one who was ready to serve and, thus, He left us all an example that can only be explained with the Greek verb "diakonia," [deacon is the noun] which means "ministry or serving." But there was no hint in their minds of any "authority" being inherent in that word or even an office implied by it with due respect to the KJV.

In fact, the general sense of the word was and is "to assist" which indicates not just a work in general, but a work that benefits someone else. This would be true whether it was a ministry of waiting on tables or a ministry of the word. It was a serving ministry [Acts 6:2-4]

Paul used the word diakonos [one who serves] to describe himself as a servant of the Lord (1 Cor. 3:5), a servant of God (2 Cor. 6:4), a servant of the new covenant (2 Cor. 3:6), a servant of the gospel (Eph. 3:7; Col. 1:23) and a servant of the church (verse 25).  All those passages reflect a serving but has no inherent authority attached to it AT ALL.

Paul noted that many of his co-workers were also servants in this way: the woman Phoebe, although when the KJV sees the word "diakonos" linked to a woman it, for some strange reason,  translated it "helper." (Rom. 16:1) But when the men were in view such as  Tychicus, (Eph. 6:21; Col. 4:7) Timothy, (1 Tim. 4:6) and Epaphras,  they were all called "diakonos." [deacons] (Col. 1:7).  Jesus said that all of his followers SHOULD BE servants. [diakonos] (Matt. 20:26; 23:11; John 12:26) This is with absolutely NO gender specificity at all.

So, with ALL CHRISTIANS  doing the work of a deacon. [diakonos]  as deacons [diakonos] of Christ, deacons [diakonos] of his message and deacons [diakonos] of one another, one is hard-pressed to find "authority over" in that word.

Nor is there any hint of anyone holding an "office" called "deacon" which gives one authority over other Christians. You may very well ask,

"Then where did the idea of the "office of deacon" come from?"  [Or "office" for that matter?]

There are a couple of places where the KJV translates the word "diakonos" in a manner that goes well BEYOND the true meaning of the word and winds up adding concepts to the original text that were never intended. One is the verse in 1 Timothy 3:13 where it says... 

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

The words..."have used the office of a deacon" were all used to translate the ONE Greek word, "diakoneo", which is translated by A H Strong as: "To be a servant, attendant, domestic, to serve, wait upon." W.E. Vine adds this..."The R.V. rightly omits "office" and translates the verb diakoneo to mean simply "to serve." 

Notice that Vine admits that the word "office" is NOT FOUND in the verse. 

Throughout the entire NT the word "diakoneo" is NEVER used to imply or show an "office" and it certainly doesn't imply "rule." It is the service done by one who is a servant to another person.

The use of the words "have used the office of a deacon" I have to assume was an attempt by the KJV translators, to connect the verse to an office that was ALREADY in operation at the time of translation and to continue it by including a phrase in the text to support it. Thus, a hierarchical office is assumed by the KJV translators, but is done so with no textual reason at all.

 So, I'm guessing it was because of the cultural bias and desire of King James and the 70 scholars he enlisted to maintain what had ALREADY become a religious hierarchial system of the day. But ladies and gentlemen, that's called "eisegesis," which means reading something into the text not there, instead of "exegesis," which means extracting from the text what is actually being said. That's a big no-no as any student of scripture knows.

But it isn't just the incorrect inclusion of "office of deacon" in 1 Timothy 3:13 that helps lead us astray. Unfortunately, it is also found in the KJV rendering of 1 Timothy 3:1 where Paul said this about a "bishop" according to the KJV, "This is a true saying, If a man desire the office of a bishop, he desireth a good work." 

But the problem is, the word "office" is not present in that verse either and the word "bishop" is really the Greek word, "episkopos" which means "to tend or to oversee." So the word "office" was incorrectly placed in the verse as well and the word "bishop" was used to translate "oversee,"  again, one has to assume it was because the translators already had bishops in King James's day and, it appears to me at least, that they wanted to maintain their hierarchy of offices.

 A proper translation of 1 Timothy 3:1 would simply be, "If a person sets their heart on overseeing, it is an honorable work they desire to do." There is no "office of Bishop" at all in the text. It is just a person desiring a ministry of overseeing to which the Apostle is referring. And God does give some people to serve in practical matters as well as a ministry of the Word.

The only other instance in the NT where "office" is found is Romans 12:4 where the KJV says..."For as we have many members in one body, and all members have not the same "office." But the KJV simply DOES NOT properly translate "office"  here at all. It is the Greek word "Praxis" which means a "doing or deed or function." It is the same word in Romans 8:13.."for if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the DEEDS [praxis] of the body, you will live." So Paul is saying there are many members in the one Body, but all members "do not do or perform the same deeds."

The "office" of pastor/elder/bishop or deacon simply does not exist in the New Testament.

But the biggest proof-text for the idea of someone "ruling,"[being over others] in the Church and particularly with the Elders doing so, is found in Hebrews 13, verses 7,17,and 24. These verses say.....

"Remember them which have the rule over you, who have spoken unto you the word of God: whose faith follow, considering the end of their conversation." Hebrews 13:7 

"Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you.Hebrews 13:17

"Salute (to draw to one's self) all them that have the rule over you, and all the saints. They of Italy salute you." Hebrews 13:24

That nails it doesn't it! Pastors are to rule over the people, are they not!.

Does it? I think not. But I will save my argument for what is really meant for the third and final part in this series next time.

Paul B.


Aussie John said...


Can't wait for third part.

Bishop Bancroft and his king aren't pleased. I mean: How can church leaders control the congregation without recognition of the high "office" of such leaders?

Hard on the ego!

Paul Burleson said...

Aussie J,


Richard Bancroft, 74th archbishop of Canterbury, as you know Aussie J, was known for his angry opposition to Puritanism, his dogged defense of ecclesiastical hierarchy, and his efforts to ensure doctrinal conformity among the clergy of the Church of England.

Then, of course, he also played a major role in the translation that became the King James Version of the Bible as he oversaw the 70 scholars who did the work.

Not pleased, might be an understatement.

Victorious said...

That nails it doesn't it! Pastors are to rule over the people, are they not!.

I know that doesn't nail it, but look forward to reading the reason. An awful lot of people believe the pastor has an awful lot of authority even in their personal lives, i.e. type of employment, location of residence, etc.

I can't imagine anyone relinquishing these types of personal decisions to another to make for them, but evidently some are.

Great series, Paul!