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Seven men of good reputation, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, were appointed to minister neglected Greek widows. It is traditionally believed that those men were the first appointed Deacons of the New Testament church.

On the other hand:

  1. The word Deacon is never used in Acts 6.
  2. These Deacons seemed to be appointed before any Elders were.
  3. The requirements to become a Deacon were outlined in the letter from Paul to Timothy more than twenty years later.

How can we be so sure these seven men were deacons and not just godly men?

1 Now at this time, as the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint developed on the part of the Hellenistic Jews against the native Hebrews, because their widows were being overlooked in the daily serving of food. 2 So the twelve summoned the congregation of the disciples and said, “It is not desirable for us to neglect the word of God in order to serve tables. 3 Instead, brothers and sisters, select from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may put in charge of this task. 4 But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” 5 The announcement found approval with the whole congregation; and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, and Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas, a proselyte from Antioch. 6 And they brought these men before the apostles; and after praying, they laid their hands on them. (Acts 6:1-6)

8 Deacons likewise must be men of dignity, not insincere, not prone to drink much wine, not greedy for money, 9 but holding to the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience. 10 These men must also first be tested; then have them serve as deacons if they are beyond reproach. 11 Women must likewise be dignified, not malicious gossips, but temperate, faithful in all things. 12 Deacons must be husbands of one wife, and good managers of their children and their own households. 13 For those who have served well as deacons obtain for themselves a high standing and great confidence in the faith that is in Christ Jesus. (1 Timothy 3:8-13)

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  • I am not sure how you want this answered - you have addressed the salient points.
    – Dottard
    Mar 4 at 21:35

2 Answers 2

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Traditionally, the episode described in Act 6:3 marks the institution of the deacon's office. But their duties in Acts were more limited than the formal office of later years. Their functions and qualifications evolved and were further defined over time; and 1 Timothy is an example of this.

The function of the deaconate (διακονίαν) by that name is first mentioned as such in Acts 11:27-30

27 At that time some prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch, 28 and one of them named Agabus stood up and predicted by the Spirit that there would be a severe famine all over the world, and it happened under Claudius. 29 So the disciples determined that, according to ability, each should send relief (διακονίαν) to the brothers who lived in Judea. 30 This they did, sending it to the presbyters in care of Barnabas and Saul.

The Cambridge Biblical Commentary explains:

The original word (deacon) is the same as that which in Acts 11:29 is rendered 'relief,' and from the class of persons on whose behalf the complaint was made it is clear that it bears the same sense here (in Acts 6). This word diakonia has, however, caused the name of deacons to be attached to these officers, whose appointment was at first made that they might have care of and distribute the funds contributed by the rich members for the relief of the needy. We can nevertheless see from St. Stephen’s work that the labours of the seven were not confined to these duties alone...

Conclusion: these were godly men assigned to duties which, as time went on, became part of the function of the deacons. Traditionally, Acts 6 marks the initiation of the deacon's office, at least in an informal sense. 1 Timothy represent a refinement of the primitive office and a clarification of its qualifications.

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  • It seems that the function of the diaconate by that name in the context of the church ministry is first mentioned as such in Act 6:1 (not in Acts 11:27-30). Mar 6 at 22:56
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You are correct. These men would not have been deacons of the church, the body of Christ, as Paul's called out body of believers had not yet been revealed at that time. Peter's church of believing Jews is a separate entity from that of Paul's church of believing (mainly) Gentiles.

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    It is neither Peter's church nor Paul's church. 'I will build my Church' said the Sole and Only Head of it..
    – Nigel J
    Mar 4 at 22:08
  • @NigelJ Certainly you understand that I was referring to leadership...not ownership. Is it not Paul that is OUR pattern? 1 Timothy 1:16 "Howbeit for this cause I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might shew forth all longsuffering, for a pattern to them which should hereafter believe on him to life everlasting." Col 1:25-26 "Whereof I am made a minister, according to the dispensation of God which is given to me for you, to fulfil the word of God; 26 Even the mystery which hath been hid from ages and from generations, but now is made manifest to his saints:" Mar 4 at 22:37
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    Not at all. Peter is the chief apostle and unto him were given the keys. Yet when he erred, Paul withstood him to the face because he was to be blamed. Peter, and the others in Jerusalem, instructed the Gentile converts (abstain from certain things and ye shall do well). It is neither ownership nor leadership - what you refer to is the two different ministeries granted by Christ during a transitional period. Now, all are one and those of Christ are subject to all the apostles who were chosen by Christ to instruct every creature under heaven. 'Separate entities' is very incorrect, in my view.
    – Nigel J
    Mar 5 at 8:02
  • @NigelJ Israel must still receive their earthly kingdom of heaven (where they will serve on earth as the nation of priests that God said they would be...judging the twelve tribes), but our role will be to serve in heaven (judging angels). Israel has an earthly promise and earthly blessings. We have "all spiritual blessings in heavenly places". Both entities are "in Christ" and will come together when time is fulfilled: Eph 1:10 "That in the dispensation of the fulness of times he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth; even in him:". Mar 5 at 11:06
  • @NigelJ This also explains how Peter retained "the keys", while Paul claims to be at least equal to him: 2 Cor 12:11 "I am become a fool in glorying; ye have compelled me: for I ought to have been commended of you: for in nothing am I behind the very chiefest apostles, though I be nothing." It also explains why it was necessary for there to be a new apostle, and for that apostle to receive the 'heavenly' ministry (from Christ ascended), rather than just going to the other apostles...who received Christ's 'earthly' ministry, and in regard to their promised earthly "kingdom" still yet to come. Mar 5 at 11:36

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