Where are deacons found in Scripture?
First, it may be helpful to define what a deacon is. Scott Hahn’s Catholic Bible Dictionary defines a deacon as:
“An ordained assistant to priests responsible for such ministerial duties as preaching, baptizing, witnessing marriages, distributing Communion, and presiding at funerals (but not saying the funeral Mass). In the modern Church there are two forms of the diaconate: the permanent diaconate (including single and married men) and the transitional diaconate (for those who will eventually be ordained as priests).”
Sometimes, finding these offices in Scripture can be a little tricky. It’s not because the offices didn’t exist, it’s because, in the apostolic age, the terms used to describe the different positions of leadership in the Church were rather fluid. For example, Paul occasionally describes his work by using the Greek word for “deacon” (diakonos, cf. 2 Cor 3:6; Eph 3:7), even though he held the much higher office of “apostle.” Peter described himself as a “fellow elder,” (1 Pet. 5:1) even though he, being an apostle, also had a much higher office. However, in Scripture we definitely see persons fulfilling the functions that we would today consider to be those of a deacon, and by the second century, there is much more agreement on the terms used to describe the three offices.
Traditionally, Acts 6:1-6 is considered to be the point in Scripture where the establishment of the office of deacon is described. It reads as follows:
“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 Proch’orus, and Nica’nor, and Ti’mon, and Par’menas, and Nicola’us, a proselyte of Antioch. These they set before the apostles, and they prayed and laid their hands upon them.”
We see from this that the first task of the deacon was to serve the poor. They had other functions too, such as assisting the bishops (cf. Phil 1:1), preaching (cf. Acts 7:2-53), and administering baptism (cf. Acts 8:38). Paul has high standards for anyone who desires to serve in such a position (cf. 1 Tim 3:8-10).
Peace of Christ to you,
WIMM Board Member
Director of Religious Education, Blessed Mother Catholic Church
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