In Paul's reference to sister Phoebe the KJV renders the masculine word διάκονος as "servant":

[Rom 16:1-4 KJV] 1 I commend unto you Phebe our sister, which is a servant of the church which is at Cenchrea: 2 That ye receive her in the Lord, as becometh saints, and that ye assist her in whatsoever business she hath need of you: for she hath been a succourer of many, and of myself also. 3 Greet Priscilla and Aquila my helpers in Christ Jesus: 4 Who have for my life laid down their own necks: unto whom not only I give thanks, but also all the churches of the Gentiles.

LXX Romans 16:1 Συνίστημι δὲ ὑμῖν Φοίβην τὴν ἀδελφὴν ἡμῶν, οὖσαν ⸀καὶ διάκονον τῆς ἐκκλησίας τῆς ἐν Κεγχρεαῖς,

What is the effect of using a masculine noun? Does it necessarily suggest that she had that "office"?

Vine's Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words
1   Strong's Number: g1249  Greek: diakonos

whence Eng. "deacon", primarily denotes a "servant," whether as doing servile work, or as an attendant rendering free service, without particular reference to its character. The word is probably connected with the verb dioko, "to hasten after, pursue" (perhaps originally said of a runner). "It occurs in the NT of domestic servants, Jhn 2:5, 9; the civil ruler, Rom 13:4; Christ, Rom 15:8; Gal 2:17; the followers of Christ in relation to their Lord, Jhn 12:26; Eph 6:21; Col 1:7; 4:7; the followers of Christ in relation to one another, Mat 20:26; 23:11; Mar 9:35; 10:43; the servants of Christ in the work of preaching and teaching, 1Cr 3:5; 2Cr 3:6; 6:4; 11:23; Eph 3:7; Col 1:23, 25; 1Th 3:2; 1Ti 4:6; those who serve in the churches, Rom 16:1 (used of a woman here only in NT); Phl 1:1; 1Ti 3:8, 12; false apostles, servants of Satan, 2Cr 11:15. Once diakonos is used where, apparently, angels are intended, Mat 22:13; in v. 3, where men are intended, doulos is used." *
[* From Notes on Thessalonians, by Hogg and Vine, p. 91.]
Diakonos is, generally speaking, to be distinguished from doulos, "a bondservant, slave;" diakonos views a servant in relationship to his work; doulos views him in relationship to his master. See, e.g., Mat 22:2-14; those who bring in the guests (vv. 3, 4, 6, 8, 10) are douloi; those who carry out the king's sentence (v. 13) are diakonoi.

Note: As to synonymous terms, leitourgos denotes "one who performs public duties;" misthios and misthotos, "a hired servant;" oiketes, "a household servant;" huperetes, "a subordinate official waiting on his superior" (originally an under-rower in a war-galley); therapon, "one whose service is that of freedom and dignity."

The so-called "Seven Deacons" in Acts 6 are not there mentioned by that name, though the kind of service in which they were engaged was of the character of that committed to such.

[View Entry in Its Context]

1   Noun    Strong's Number: g1249  Greek: diakonos
Minister (Noun and Verb):

"a servant, attendant, minister, deacon," is translated "minister" in Mar 10:43; Rom 13:4 (twice); 15:8; 1Cr 3:5; 2Cr 3:6; 6:4; 11:15 (twice); Gal 2:17; Eph 6:21; Col 1:7, 23, 25; 4:7; 1Th 3:2; 1Ti 4:6. 
[View Entry in Its Context]

2   Noun    Strong's Number: g1249  Greek: diakonos

for which see DEACON and Note there on synonymous words, is translated "servant" or "servants" in Mat 22:13 (RV marg., "ministers"); 23:11 (RV marg., ditto); Mar 9:35, AV (RV, "minister"); Jhn 2:5, 9; 12:26; Rom 16:1.


  • I'm not clear what you are asking. διάκονος is a masculine noun. 'Servant' in English can be either male or female. And what credentials do you wish to examine ? And how will you examine them ?
    – Nigel J
    Commented Dec 22, 2018 at 19:01
  • I heard a sage preacher say, "Never teach what you do not know". youtube.com/user/EkimRegniw Basically I'm saying that I don't want guesses. If you know Greek and can answer the question, great. If not, please take a pass or provide a link or citation from a recognized Big Greek. Thanks.
    – Ruminator
    Commented Dec 22, 2018 at 19:07
  • @Ruminator: In many languages possessing grammatical gender, including my own, the masculine is seen as all-encompassing (i.e., it does not need to refer only to physically and/or grammatically masculine objects), whereas the feminine is used solely for denoting objects which, for the most part, are physically and/or grammatically feminine.
    – Lucian
    Commented Jan 3, 2019 at 0:54
  • I strongly suspect the reason my (old) browser shows a hideous display error on this particular page is because of the exceedingly long line lengths used in the post's body.
    – Lucian
    Commented Jun 21, 2020 at 13:57

2 Answers 2


Yes it is an office. What I would ask you is to have a look at some of the meanings of this word in the secular Greek of that time, from which Paul borrowed it. There are many occurences where διάκονος is simply "servant" and it denotes as we know "one who waits at the table" (just like in Xenophon, Hiero, 4, 1 f.; Herodotus, Hist.IV, 71 f.; Xenophon, Memorabilia Socratis, I, 5, 2).

It is interesting that in Julius Pollux, Onomasticum, 8, 137 διάκονος is associated with ἄγγελος, κῆρυξ and σπονδοφόρος, so it is translated as “messenger”.

But what I think is most interesting for you is the use of the word in 2 of the Demosthenes' speeches, where it can be rendered as "maid" or "maidservant". Please see:

Demosthenes, Speech against Timocrates 24, 197:

... μηδένα πώποτ᾽ ἐλεῆσαι, ἀλλὰ θύρας ἀφαιρεῖν καὶ στρώμαθ᾽ ὑποσπᾶν καὶ διάκονον (maidservant), εἴ τις ἐχρῆτο, ταύτην ἐνεχυράζειν: ἃσὺ πάντ᾽ ἐποίεις...

Demosthenes, Speech against Evergus and Mnesibulus 47, 52:

... μετ᾽ αὐτῶν καὶ πάντα τὰ ἀκόλουθα τῇ ποίμνῃ, ἔπειτα παῖδα διάκονον ("maidservant" in F. Blass's edition - some would translate this as "serving-boy") ὑδρίαν χαλκῆν ἀποφέροντα ἀλλοτρίαν ᾐτημένην, πολλοῦ ἀξίαν ...

In the text above, it all depends on how do you interpret παῖδα, which is parsed as a form of: παῖς. However, παῖς can be understood as man or maid (of all ages).

In additon to this, there is an inscription from Metropolis in Lydia (Corpus Inscriptionum Graecarum, II, 3037), that mentions male and female deacons along with priests and priestesses.

Now of course I am not trying to say that Paul had read Demosthenes, I am only trying to suggest that the word was used this way, with this meaning, in the Greek speaking world of that time.

On the other hand, διάκονος was used with reference to sacramental activities in a pagan context, in relation to cultic actions, sacrifices. The word διάκονος often occurs on inscriptions like the one mentioned above, most often in lists of titles. I am fully quoting the list bellow from the 1st/2nd century (B.C.), which is a list from Acarnania:

... πρύτανις, ἑστία, ὑποπρυτάνιες, μάντις, αὐλητάς ἱεροφόρος, μάγειρος, διάκονος, ἀρχοινόχους, ἱεροθύτας

(see Inscriptiones Graecae, IX, 1,486).

That the job was sacramental is obvious in an inscription that is saying that διάκονοι took part in the dedication of a statue of Hermes:

.... κομάκτορες, κήρυκες καὶ διάκονοι

(Inscriptions of Magnesia on the Meander, 217)

A similar list was found on the pillar of a temple dedicated to Apollo, apparently the time of Jesus Christ (see Inscriptiones Graecae, IX, 1, 487 and Corpus Inscriptionum Graecarum, II, Add., 1793b, p. 982).

However, here too the job of the διάκονοι seems to be the serving of food, since they are always mentioned after the cooks, like here bellow:

... κοινὸν τῶν διακόνων ...

(Corpus Inscriptionum Graecarum, II, 1800)

As a first conclusion: in the Greek speaking world of Paul's time, the word διάκονος was used for both men and women involved in serving other people, and also for both men and women involved in sacramental/cultic activities, in pagan context. This is why we can presume that Paul was using διάκονος to designate an office, regardless of the gender (male/female) of the people performing it.

In addition to this, if we refine our research we can have a look at how Paul is using this word. And what do we find?

In 1 Timothy 3:1, Paul is speaking about the office of overseer:

1 Timothy 3:1

If anyone aspires to the office of overseer (ἐπισκοπῆς), he desires a noble task ... (ESV)

Then, in 1 Timothy 3 Paul is giving advice on how an overseer is expected to be. And he is adding to this, instructions on how a deacon should be:

1 Timothy 3:8-10

Deacons (Διακόνους) likewise must be dignified, not double-tongued, not addicted to much wine, not greedy for dishonest gain. (9) They must hold the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience. (10) And let them also be tested first; then let them serve as deacons (διακονείτωσαν) if they prove themselves blameless. (ESV)

Last but probably not least, in Philippians 1:1, Paul is using "servants" and "deacons" both in one phrase, with clearly different meanings, where deacon is used again straight after overseer, as an office.

Philippians 1:1

Paul and Timothy, servants (δοῦλοι) of Christ Jesus, to all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi, with the overseers and deacons (ἐπισκόποις καὶ διακόνοις) ... (ESV)

Thus being said, perhaps it would be interesting to find out how it comes that elsewhere, Paul is calling himself as a "deacon":

Colossians 1:23b

... not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister (ἐγὼ Παῦλος διάκονος). (ESV)

Colossians 1:25

... I became a minister (ἧς ἐγενόμην ἐγὼ διάκονος) according to the stewardship from God that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known. (ESV)

However (and this would be my general conclusion), I think that this is a case where the use of a masculine or a feminine noun is not so important. It is not necessarily this that suggest that she (Phebe) had that "office". What really matters here is the usage, I mean the way that the word was used in speech, in that time, both in a biblical and in a non-biblical context.

In a non-biblical context, we can find "deacon" as meaning servant, and as designating an office related to cultic activities. In a biblical pauline context, "deacon" is to be found just the same: 1. as servant; 2. as servant + associated with overseer, as an office.

What I find most clarifying is Philippians 1:1, where we have on one hand "servants (δοῦλοι) of Christ Jesus" and on the other hand "overseers and deacons (ἐπισκόποις καὶ διακόνοις)". For me, this is speaking volumes: deacon = an office.

  • 1
    I've added quite a few "bottom lines" :-) sorry if in the end is a bit to long. Please note that the links to Demosthenes' speeches are directing to English translations of the lines that here are in the Greek. Commented Dec 23, 2018 at 15:07

According to Paul females did not take any "office" in the congregations, only males:-

NWT 1 Timothy 2:11, 12 "Let a woman learn in silence with full submissiveness. 12 I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man, but she is to remain silent."

NWT 1 Timothy 3:12, 13 "Let ministerial servants (διακονοι) be husbands of one wife, presiding in a fine manner over their children and their own households. 13 For the men who minister (διακονησαντες) in a fine manner are acquiring for themselves a fine standing and great freeness of speech in the faith that is in Christ Jesus."

NWT Acts 6:3 "So, brothers, select for yourselves seven reputable men from among you, full of spirit and wisdom, that we may appoint them over this necessary matter; ..."

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