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Deacon and Deaconess are English words that were derived from the Greek word diaconos, meaning a servant. The original Greek word was used in a general sense for all servants, with no religious connotation, however the apostles adopted the term for individuals who were given the responsibility of taking care of practical matters within the church, beginning with "The Seven" (Acts 6:1-6, 21:8). They were regarded as an element of the "ministry" - minister, servant and deacon all originated from the same Greek word i.e. deacons primarily served (diakonein) the physical needs of people so that the apostles could concentrate on ministering (diakonia) the Word of God. Deacons were not however limited - some of the deacons were also teachers and evangelists, as was Stephen who is often regarded as the first Christian martyr (Acts 7:1-60), and Philip who successfully preached in Samaria (Acts 8:5-13) and baptized one of the first converts from Africa, the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8:26-38).

Fish and Bread Deacons

The first church deacons:

"Now in these days when the disciples were increasing in number, the Hellenists murmured against the Hebrews because their widows were neglected in the daily distribution. And the twelve summoned the body of the disciples and said, "It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables. Therefore, brethren, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may appoint to this duty. But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word."

"And what they said pleased the whole multitude, and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, and Philip, and Prochorus, and Nicanor, and Timon, and Parmenas, and Nicolaus, a proselyte of Antioch. These they set before the apostles, and they prayed and laid their hands upon them."

"And the word of God increased; and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests were obedient to the faith. And Stephen, full of grace and power, did great wonders and signs among the people." (Acts 6:1-8 RSV)

The qualifications of a deacon:

"Deacons likewise must be serious, not double-tongued, not addicted to much wine, not greedy for gain; they must hold the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience. And let them also be tested first; then if they prove themselves blameless let them serve as deacons. The women likewise must be serious, no slanderers, but temperate, faithful in all things. Let deacons be the husband of one wife, and let them manage their children and their households well; for those who serve well as deacons gain a good standing for themselves and also great confidence in the faith which is in Christ Jesus." (1 Timothy 3:8-13 RSV)


Whether a wife of a deacon was automatically a deaconess is not certain - the qualifications applied equally to a deaconess as a deacon (see 1 Timothy 3:8-13 above). It is known from the writings of early church history after the close of the New Testament time that deaconesses served prominently by caring for needy fellow believers, visiting the sick, and assisting in the baptism of female converts. Phoebe is perhaps the best-known deaconess in the Bible record.

"I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deaconess of the church at Cenchreae, that you may receive her in the Lord as befits the saints, and help her in whatever she may require from you, for she has been a helper of many and of myself as well" (Romans 16:1-2 RSV)

"Therefore, my brethren, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm thus in the Lord, my beloved. I entreat Euodia and I entreat Syntyche to agree in the Lord. And I ask you also, true yokefellow, help these women, for they have labored side by side with me in the gospel together with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life." (Philippians 4:1-3 RSV)

Fact Finder: What prominent Pharisee, who later became a Christian apostle, witnessed the stoning to death of the deacon Stephen?
Acts 8:1 and On The Road To Damascus

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