A Commentary by John Stott
1 Timothy. 3:8-13. 2). The deacons.
Since the *diakonos* was the waiter at table, and *diakonein* means to engage in service of a social kind, as we have already noted, it is understandable that the ‘deacons’ are thought to have specialized in practical administration and ministry, even if Acts 6 was not the historical origin of the diaconate. But the requirement of verse 9, that the deacons have a strong and steadfast grasp of the revealed faith, suggests that they were expected to teach it, which was the chief responsibility of the overseers. So then, rather than distinguishing deacons from overseers as social workers from teachers, it is perhaps better to think of the deacons as assisting the overseers in their ministry.
Since the qualifications for the diaconate overlap with those for the presbyterate, it will not be necessary to study them all in detail. But the following four areas are emphasized.
First, deacons must have self-mastery. Four words in verse 8 seem to form a natural grouping – *men worthy of respect* (‘men’ is not in the Greek sentence), *sincere (me dilogos*), literally ‘not double-tongued’, ‘not indulging in double talk’ (REB) or, as we might say, ‘not speaking out of both sides of their mouth’, *not indulging in much wine, and not pursuing dishonest gain*, ‘with no squalid greed for money’ (JB). Thus in these four areas, in their behaviour, speech, use of alcohol and attitude to money, candidates for the diaconate are to have control of themselves.
Secondly, deacons must have orthodox convictions. *They must keep hold of the deep truths of the faith with a clear conscience* (9), or be ‘conscientious believers in the mystery of the faith’ (JB). For *deep truths* translates to *mysterion*, and this ‘mystery’ is the sum-total of the revealed truths of the faith. These the deacons must hold fast. And unlike the false teachers, who have rejected their conscience and so shipwrecked their faith (1:19), and have even ‘cauterized’ their conscience by constantly disregarding it (4:2), the deacons are to maintain ‘a clear conscience’ (cf.1:6), holding on to God’s revelation with sincere and strong conviction.
Thirdly, deacons must have been tested and approved. *They must first be tested* or ‘undergo a scrutiny’ (NEB). In addition to the selection procedure Paul has been outlining, there needs to be a period of probation, in which the congregation may assess the character, beliefs and gifts of the candidates for the diaconate. It is right that in this way the congregation is given a share in the testing of potential deacons. *And then if there is nothing against them, let them serve as deacons* (10). This shows that the concept of ‘probationers’ or ‘postulants’ is wise and biblical.
Fourthly, deacons must have an irreproachable home life. Verse 11 raises a problem. It begins *In the same way, their wives are to be women worthy of respect…* Literally it runs: ‘Women likewise…’ And commentators are not agreed whether these women are the deacons’ wives (as in NIV) or deaconesses (NIV mg.), for the word could apply to either.
In favour of ‘deaconesses’, the ‘likewise’ of verse 11, like that of verse 8, leads one to expect a new category; it would be strange for deacons’ wives to be mentioned when elders’ wives are not; there is no definite article or possessive before ‘women’ which there would have to be if it meant ‘their wives’ (NIV has unwarrantably added ‘their’); and we know from Phoebe (Rom.16:1) that there were women deacons or deaconesses at that time.
In favour of ‘deacons’ wives’, on the other hand, these women are not called ‘deacons’ like Phoebe; the reference to them is sandwiched between two references to deacons, which would make an allusion to their wives quite natural; and the omission of a reference to the women’s married faithfulness, corresponding to verses 2 and 12, would be explained if these women were the deacon’s wives.
Commentators are still divided on this question. One or two suggest that it could be a reference to both, since wives and deaconesses could share in assisting the deacons in their ministry. In either case, these women are to be *worthy of respect (semnos)*, like the deacons in verse 8, *not malicious talkers but*, having control of their tongue, *temperate (nephalios)*, like the presbyters in verse 2 *and trustworthy in everything* (11).
Tomorrow: 1 Timothy 3:8-13 The deacons (continued).
The John Stott Bible Study is taken from The Message of 1 Timothy. The Bible Speaks Today John Stott. Used by permission of Inter-Varsity Press UK, Nottingham. All rights reserved.