6. 1 Tim. 3:8-16 Qualifications of “Servants” of Local Assemblies
Paul followed the instructions regarding “supervisors” in 1 Timothy 3 with instructions regarding both male and female “servants” of the assembly. Most translations use the term “deacon” as a title, a transliteration of the Greek word διάκονος (diakonos). This is a noun derived from the verb διάκω and means to run errands. This term is to be distinguished from the term δοῦλός (doulos) which means a slave. Both terms refer to someone under the authority of another. However, δοῦλός (slave) implies the lowest position with no personal rights or authority, but διάκονος (servant) can refer to one who may hold a very high rank within an authority structure, yet always under a higher authority. For example, in the Septuagint διάκονος is used of kings’ servants who are under his authority but are also his advisors. While the noun is grammatically masculine in gender, it is also used of a female servant in Scripture.
Romans 16:1-2 (LGV) 1 I commend to you Phoebe our sister, being a deaconess of the congregation in Cenchrea, 2 so that you may receive her in the Master, worthy of the holy ones, and may stand with her in whatever business she should require of you. For she also became an assistant of many, and also of me.
This passage shows that Phoebe was not only a servant in the general sense, but held an official position in the assembly at Cenchrea since she was travelling from that assembly to Rome on official business for that assembly.
Here are Paul’s instructions concerning male and female “servants” (deacons and deaconesses).
1 Timothy 3:8-16 (LGV) Similarly, Servants [must be] honorable, not double-tongued, not given to much wine, not greedy, 9 holding the mystery of the Faith with a clean conscience. 10 Yet, let these also be verified first, thereafter allow them to serve, being without indictment. 11 Similarly, women [Servants] [must be] honorable, not gossipers, serious, faithful in everything. 12 Man-Servants must be men of one woman, presiding over their own children and household well. 13 For the ideal Servants are acquiring for themselves an excellent rank and great confidence in the Faith which is in Anointed Jesus.
The first qualification is being “honorable, not double tongued.” A lot of Christians, including leaders, say one thing in certain company and something entirely different in another context. This is a character flaw that cannot be permitted in any official position in a Christian assembly. It stems from being a “man-pleaser” instead of being fully devoted to the truth. Paul referred to this in the following passage: “For am I now convincing men or God? Or am I seeking to please men? If I still seek to please men, I would not have become the Anointed’s servant.” Being consistently honest in all situations is a must for the office of “servant” (deacon). Those who are “double-tongued” are those who are patronizing or are manipulative of others.
The next qualification is obvious, since one who is fond of alcohol is a poor example to others, has skewed judgement, and cannot be trusted in important matters. Likewise, one who is fond of money or acquiring possessions is more concerned with personal comfort, status, and self-seeking rather than self-sacrifice. These things will skew judgement in important decisions that must be made in the exercise of the office of servant to the local assembly. Such a person may tend to use his office for personal benefit.
The next qualification, “holding the mystery of the Faith with a clean conscience,” has two important aspects. He must first have a good understanding of the apostolic Christian Faith, having been well-taught and a good student of the Faith especially regarding Christian conduct. Yet the second part, “with a clean conscience,” means that he must be living up to the standards of humble obedience to the Scriptures in all things related to conduct. Paul then said that those men who meet the above conditions must first be “tested” over a period of time before they are given the official responsibility. This can mean merely observing them over a period of time in various situations. Or, it may mean giving them a sort of internship or mentorship under the supervision of faithful deacons.
Verse 10 is usually misunderstood, in my opinion. “Similarly, women [must be] honorable, not gossipers, serious, faithful in everything.” Most translations have “their wives” rather than “women.” However, there is no possessive (their) in the Greek text. Also the word translated “wives” is γυνὴ (gun-ay’) and is the general word for any female. While this word is used of both married and unmarried females, when speaking about “wives” the Greek typically will include the possessive as follows: αι γυναῖ αὐτῶν “the women of them” or ἡ γυνὴ αὐτοῦ “the woman of him.” Since this is not the case here, it is better to understand the passage as referring to women who are not necessarily linked to the men being addressed yet who are appointed to the office of “servant” just like the male counterpart. In support of this interpretation notice that there is no similar requirement regarding wives of “supervisors” (elders/pastors). The wife of a “supervisor” would have much greater impact and influence in the assembly if she was behaving improperly than the wife of a “servant.” Given this important omission, it is much more likely that Paul was referring to deaconesses rather than the wives of deacons.
Paul began this verse concerning female deacons with the word “similarly.” This implies that the same previous qualifications for male servants also applies to female servants. But he added special qualifications which had more potential generally for being problematic in the case of women. Paul also used the term “honorable,” but qualified it as, “not gossipers, serious, faithful in everything.” This is a very important qualification for women, since the office of deaconess can involve being privy to very personal information regarding others, especially other women. As James indicates, there is nothing more destructive to the assembly than a loose “tongue.” She must also be serious and faithful in everything. This of course includes in her role in her own family.
While the qualifications of men servants (vss. 8-10) are also applied to female servants by the term “similarly,” in verse 12 Paul gave another qualification for male servants which is the same as for supervisors (elders/pastors). “Servants must be men of one woman, presiding over their own children and household well.” As stated in the previous post regarding supervisors, the term “presiding” refers to how one exercises and manages his own personal sphere of authority in his home. This qualification shows that the office of a servant is one that carries considerable authority within the congregation, albeit under the authority of the supervisors.
Whether a servant is male or female, Paul stated: “For the ideal Servants are acquiring for themselves an excellent rank and great confidence in the Faith which is in Anointed Jesus.”
When one compares all that the Scriptures have to say about the qualifications of supervisors and servants, there is one significant difference. Supervisors are the teachers of the assembly, both in teaching doctrine and proper Christian behavior, and are responsible directly to Jesus Christ for how they teach and lead. The “servants” (deacons & deaconesses) are called “servants” because they are helpers to the supervisors and under their authority, and are entrusted with specific areas of responsibility.
It is also important to consider how early Christians understood the roles of deacons and deaconesses. Deaconesses are mentioned several times in the early Christian writings.
Tertullian referred to deaconesses as women who hold a specific office in the local assembly in the following statement: “How many men, therefore, and how many women, in Ecclesiastical Orders, owe their position to continence, …”
The Constitutions of the Holy Apostles (4th cent.) mentions deaconesses many times. For example: “In the next place, let the presbyters one by one, not all together, exhort the people, and the bishop in the last place, as being the commander. Let the porters stand at the entries of the men, and observe them. Let the deaconesses also stand at those of the women, like shipmen. For the same description and pattern was both in the tabernacle of the testimony and in the temple of God.”
Again: “Nay, if a poor man, or one of a mean family, or a stranger, comes upon you, whether he be old or young, and there be no place, the deacon shall find a place for even these, and that with all his heart; that, instead of accepting persons before men, his ministration towards God may be well-pleasing. The very same thing let the deaconess do to those women, whether poor or rich, that come unto them.”
Again: “The widows therefore ought to be grave, obedient to their bishops, and their presbyters, and their deacons, and besides these to the deaconesses, with piety, reverence, and fear; not usurping authority, …”
As for why deaconesses were necessary, the following was the explanation. “Ordain also a deaconess who is faithful and holy, for the ministrations towards women. For sometimes he [the supervisor] cannot send a deacon, who is a man, to the women, on account of unbelievers. Thou shalt therefore send a woman, a deaconess, on account of the imaginations of the bad. For we stand in need of a woman, a deaconess, for many necessities; and first in the baptism of women, …” That deaconesses were ordained shows clearly that this was an official office, title, and status. Also, in the New Testament, and in early Christian history, people who met the qualifications were normally “ordained” to that post for life, not merely voted into a temporary post in the local assembly. Even if they were too old or infirm to continue actively working, they retained their respectable status that ordination to the office implies.
Again: “Let the deacons be in all things unspotted, as the bishop himself is to be, only more active; in number according to the largeness of the Church, that they may minister to the infirm as workmen that are not ashamed. And let the deaconess be diligent in taking care of the women; but both of them ready to carry messages, to travel about, to minister, and to serve, as spake Isaiah concerning the Lord, saying: ‘To justify the righteous, who serves many faithfully.’ Let every one therefore know his proper place, and discharge it diligently with one consent, with one mind, as knowing the reward of their ministration; but let them not be ashamed to minister to those that are in want, as even our ‘Lord Jesus Christ came not to be ministered unto, but to minister and to give His life a ransom for many’.”
Given the conservative tendency of the ancient cultures regarding women, these interpretations and applications of what the New Testament has to say on the subject of women as deaconesses are quite remarkable. But it is important to note that deaconesses were primarily used as a buffer between the male supervisors and the women of the congregation, to assist the women of the congregation in the same manner in which the male deacons were to interact with the men.
Paul then explained why all of these instructions are critical and must be obeyed faithfully.
14 I am expecting to come to you quickly, 15 but if I should be delayed, I am writing these things so that you may see how it is necessary to behave in God’s house – which is the congregation of the living God – the pillar and base of the Truth.
Note the words “I am writing these things so that you may see how it is necessary to behave in God’s house.” This includes the specific teaching on women in 2:9-15, and in the qualifications for supervisors and male and female servants. These things are necessary for proper conduct in “God’s House.” This term was used many times in the Old Testament to refer to the Temple. Under the Law of Moses, there were very specific roles assigned to the Aaronic priesthood. So serious was God about maintaining the assigned order in His House that He burnt to a crisp Aaron’s two oldest sons who were priests charged with offering the incense on the golden altar because they did not follow His directions exactly. Paul did not call the local assembly “God’s House” flippantly. He qualified this term as follows: “God’s House – which is the congregation of the living God – the pillar and base of the Truth.” Just as Solomon’s Temple stood as a “pillar” of the only priestly service which was acceptable for the people to approach a holy God, likewise the local assembly is no less a place for reverence, humble obedience, and to approach God in the fear of the Lord. Being the “pillar and base of the Truth” means that the local assembly stands as a monument and standard of the entire apostolic Faith. When it is corrupted and polluted by leaders who do not take God’s commands seriously, God is just as angry with that congregation as he was when He sent Nebuchadnezzar to destroy His own House and lead His people into exile.
Paul ended this chapter with the following:
“16 And indisputably, the mystery of devotedness is great: God was made to appear in flesh, was rendered just in breath, was displayed to the messengers, was announced among the nations, was trusted upon in the world, [and] was taken up in glory.”
Some translations have “He appeared in a body” rather than “God was made to appear in flesh,” substituting the pronoun “He” in place of “God,” thus avoiding referring to Jesus as “God.” While a few early manuscripts do not have “God,” the vast majority do contain this statement. It is often used by Trinitarians to prove that Jesus is “God” (full divinity). However, the term “God” is never used in reference to ontological divinity in Scripture (what God is), but is only ever a personal reference (who God is). It is better to understand this statement in light of other Scriptures. Paul referred to the Son as the “the image of the invisible God” and “the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person.” When asked by one of the disciples to “show us the Father,” Jesus replied, “He who has seen Me has seen the Father.” While the term “God” typically refers to the Father alone, the Son is called “God” in Psalm 45:6-7, John 1:1, John 20:28, Hebrews 1:8-9, etc. The Messenger of the LORD was called “God” and “LORD” throughout the Old Testament because, as His authorized agent, He was “God” to those to whom He was sent. Isaiah referred to Him as “the Messenger of His Presence [lit. “Face”]. This was because of Moses’ exchange with God: “And He said, ‘My Presence [lit. “Face”] will go with you, and I will give you rest.’ Then he said to Him, ‘If Your Presence [lit. “Face”] does not go with us, do not bring us up from here’.” Yet it was the Messenger of the LORD who went with Israel and brought them into the Promised Land.
Verse 16 may appear a bit out of place in Paul’s instructions regarding order in the local assembly given that this is a theological statement rather than a practical one. However, it is not out of place but intentional. By referring to Christ as “God” who “was made to appear in flesh,” Paul’s point is the same as what he stated in the following passage:
Phil. 2:3-8 (LGV) 3 Yet, [do] nothing according to strife or self-seeking, but with humility, considering one another superior to yourselves, 4 not each one watching over what is his own, but also each other’s. 5 Have this disposition in you which [was] also in Anointed Jesus 6 who, being in the form of God, did not consider equality with God [to be] plunder, 7 but emptied Himself, taking the form of a slave, becoming in the likeness of men. And having been found as human in design, 8 He suppressed Himself, becoming obedient unto death, even death of a cross.
While the role of Supervisor (elder/pastor) and the role of Servant (deacon/deaconess) are both honorable positions, both are service of others instead of self, and both require the same “disposition which was in Anointed Jesus.” That is laying aside one’s own interests for the sake of the local body. Consequently, verse 16 is an appropriate conclusion to the list of qualifications.
 Strong’s #G1249
 Est. 1:10; 2:2; 6:3,5
 Gal. 1:10 (LGV)
 Being consistently honest does not mean always being forthcoming. There is a time to remain silent, which requires wisdom.
 LXX – Gen. 2:24-25; Gen. 34:29; Gen. 46:5; Num. 16:27; etc.; NT – Matt. 1:21; Matt. 5:31-32; Mat. 18:25 etc.
 James 3
 1 Pet. 5:1-4
 Tertullian, Exhortation to Chastity, ch. 13
 Constitutions of the Holy Apostles, Bk. II, ch. lvii
 Constitutions of the Holy Apostles, Bk. II, ch. lviii
 Constitutions of the Holy Apostles, Bk. III, ch. vii
 Constitutions of the Holy Apostles, Bk. III, ch. xvi
 Constitutions of the Holy Apostles, Bk. III, ch. xix
 Lev. 10:1-7
 Ezekiel 8
 Col. 1:15
 Heb. 1:3
 John 14:9
 Exod. 3:1 – 4:17
 Isa. 63:9
 Exod. 33:14-15
 Judges 2:1-4