Wednesday, 21 July 2021

Who Is Qualified to Be a Deacon? A Careful Analysis of 1 Timothy 3:8-13 (Part 1 of 3)

Deacons likewise must be dignified, not double-tongued, not addicted to much wine …” (1 Tim. 3:8a, ESV).
The English word “Deacons” is transliterated from the Greek diákonoi, plural of diákonos, which essentially means “one who renders service to another; an attendant, servant.”1 In its generic sense it is applicable to anyone who renders service (Mark 9:35; John 2:5; 12:26; Rom. 13:4; 15:8), male or female (Rom. 16:1; Eph. 6:21), including Paul (Eph. 3:7; Col. 1:23, 25) and his coworkers (1 Cor. 3:5; 2 Cor. 3:6; 6:4; Col. 1:7; 4:7). Later in this letter Timothy is called “a good servant [diákonos] of Christ Jesus” (4:6). But here the term is used in a more limited sense to designate an official position in the local congregation with specific qualifications. 
Like the Ephesus church, the Christian community at Philippi also had “overseers and deacons” (Phil. 1:1b). While deacons are not church leaders per se (note 1 Tim. 3:10, 13), they are part of the leadership team serving under the direction of the overseers. In the early Jerusalem church, seven reputable men were chosen to assist the apostles in the daily benevolent diakonía [“service”] (Acts 6:1), and even though the official label diákonoi (“deacons”) is not ascribed to them, the infinitive diakoneîn [“to serve”] (v. 2) is used to describe their work.2
The adverbial “likewise” [hōsaútōs], “in like manner” (ASV), “In the same way” (NIV), is “a connecting link between items in a series of regulations,”3 thus continuing the “must be” of vv. 2, 7. “Deacons demonstrate what spiritual maturity and responsible membership look like. They show the congregation how to love and support their elders. The higher purpose underlying the individual tasks deacons perform is modeling spiritual health, caring relationships, and lifelong growth…. Though some [of the qualifications] are relative, none is optional.”4
Deacons are to be “dignified,” the adj. semnós5 also rendered “reverent” (NKJV), “worthy of respect” (CSB, NIV). The idea of “grave” (ASV, KJV) or “serious” (N/RSV) discounts one who is insensitive, inconsiderate, and flippant, not taking important matters seriously. The deacon must exhibit “reverent decorum” and “quiet gravity,” a quality listed first “because a humble and respectful demeanor affects everything a deacon does.”6
The first of three negative statements preceded by mē (“not”) is “not double-tongued” [dílogos], used only here in scripture and possibly coined by Paul, from dís (“twice”) + lógos (a spoken word”).7 The rendering “not hypocritical” (CSB) is more idiomatic. But “sincere” (NIV) fails to capture the full sense of the expression, which seems to imply deceitfulness, saying one thing but meaning another, intentionally leaving the wrong impression, or saying something to one person and then giving conflicting information to someone else. Deacons work horizontally among a variety of individuals and families of the congregation, and vertically in “an intermediate position” between the overseers and membership, and are thus “exposed to a temptation to speak of the same matter in different tones and manner …”Deacons must be honest men of integrity, exemplified in their speech (cf. Jas. 3:9-10), diplomatic without being deceptive (Col. 3:9; 4:6).
The next negative requirement [mē oínō pollō proséchontas] is variously rendered, “not addicted to ” (ESV), “not given to …” (ASV, N/KJV), “not drinking …” (CSB), “not indulging in …” (NIV), “much wine. This is perhaps a less ambiguous expression of what is expected of the overseer (vv. 2-3),9 who is to be nēphaléos (“sober-minded,” or in the primary sense, “free from the influence of intoxicants”) and the negated pároinos (lit. “not near wine”), <see previous discussion>. Deacons “must show an example of the strictest sobriety …”10 The directive speaks for itself, but before we move on, it is important to appreciate what the apostle is saying here, and what he is not saying. 
Paul simply affirms that a man preoccupied with wine does not qualify to serve as a deacon. The text does not say a deacon is to drink a little wine in moderation.11 Neither does it sanction anyone else in the church being addicted to wine, nor does it advocate social drinking. To suggest otherwise is to read too much into the injunction and its original purpose. 
The present participial form of the verbal proséchō, meaning to “bring near to,” “be attentive to,” “apply oneself to,” “be given or addicted to,”12 corresponds to the verbal doulóō (to “be enslaved” or “be in bondage”) in the comparable admonition in Titus 2:3 concerning older women, who are “not given to much wine” (NKJV), “not enslaved to much wine” (NASB), “not … slaves to much wine” (ESV). In the very same epistles, using a form of proséchō, stern warnings are issued about those who “give heed to” or “devote themselves to” the leavening influence of false teachers and false doctrines (1 Tim. 1:4; 4:1; Tit. 1:14), yet surely no one would suggest moderate involvement is being encouraged. Scripture also alludes to the non-Christian life as enslaved [doulóō] under the sinful elements of the world (Gal. 4:3) and enslaved [doulóō] to corruption or depravity (2 Pet. 2:19), so does this implicitly support a moderate amount of worldliness and degradation in a person’s life?
A challenge for a number of interpreters is Paul’s inclusion of the adj. “much” [polús] in the prohibition, which seems to imply the acceptability of a “little” wine. Are deacons, older women, and by extension all other Christians indirectly granted permission to drink alcoholic beverages in moderation as long as “much” is not consumed at one time? Such an interpretive approach is not only irresponsible but is impossible to apply consistently. Is it reasonable to conclude that a Christian must not be addicted or enslaved to much wine, but to be addicted or enslaved to a moderate amount of wine is okay? The word “much” is an apt qualifier in the context of excessive indulgence, addiction, obsession, or distraction,13 but it does not automatically suggest the acceptability of a lesser amount (however that might be measured?). In fact, when the apostle does make explicit reference to using “a little wine” [oínō olígō chrō] (5:23), it is for medicinal reasons rather than for personal enjoyment or socializing.14
Later Paul mentions Alexander who had done him “much” [polús] harm (2 Tim. 4:14). Does this indicate that Alexander would have been justified in only doing a little harm to Paul? When Yahweh told Israel their sins could not be washed away with “much” soap (Jer. 2:22), would it be valid to infer they could have been spiritually cleansed with a moderate amount of soap? When the Bible says a mighty man is not delivered by “much” strength (Psa. 33:16), does this imply he is delivered by a little strength? Was Ahab exonerated because he only served Baal “a little” in comparison to Jehu who served him “much” (2 Kings 10:18)? Since Manasseh was condemned for shedding “much” innocent blood (2 Kings 21:16), would it have been fine for him to shed a moderate amount of innocent blood? Manasseh also did “much” evil in the sight of Yahweh (2 Chron. 33:6), but would a smaller amount of evil have been permissible?
The observation is made in 1 Pet. 4:4 that the sinful world is “surprised when you do not join them in the same flood [anáchusis, “excess of overflow”] of debauchery …” Is Peter sanctioning a reduced amount of debauchery, including the vices listed in v. 3? Condemning and forbidding extreme folly does not equate to a positive endorsement of participating to a lesser degree. There were 1st-century Christians who had previously engaged in all sorts of sinful excess, including sexual promiscuity, idolatry, theft, greed, and alcohol abuse. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Cor. 6:9-11). How close or how far would they now have been distancing themselves from these former vices? 
It is not sound exegesis to draw positive affirmation of alcohol consumption out of a censure of its abuse. If Paul were wanting to endorse social drinking, this is a strange place and obscure way of doing it. The intent of the proscription is simply to affirm that a man distracted by wine cannot be a public servant in the church.15
--Kevin L. Moore
     1 H. K. Moulton, Analytical Greek Lexicon Revised 91.
     2 H. D. M. Spence also finds “deacons” in 1 Cor. 12:28; Rom. 12:7; 1 Pet. 4:11 (“First Timothy,” NT Commentary 3:192). Polycarp, in a letter to the Philippi church (ca. 115), offers the admonition “to be subject to the presbyters and deacons.” The Didache (ca. 130-150) confirms that during this time the church was administered by elders and deacons (cf. Sec. 15). Justin Martyr, in the mid-2nd century, also alludes to “those with us who are called deacons” (Apology 1.65, 67).
     3 N. J. D. White, “First and Second Timothy and Titus,” EGT 4:107. Note 2:9; 3:8, 11; 5:25; Tit. 2:3, 6; elsewhere in Paul to make a comparison (Rom. 8:26; 1 Tim. 5:25) or extend a thought (1 Cor. 11:25).
     4 A. Johnson, Dynamic Deacons 6, 19. 
     5 Appearing only four times in the NT: 1 Tim. 3:8, 11; Phil. 4:8; Tit. 2:2. The verbal sébomai (to “revere” or “adore”) occurs ten times but not in Paul’s writings. 
     6 H. D. M. Spence, “First Timothy,” Ellicott’s NT Commentary 3:192; A. Johnson, Dynamic Deacons 19. 
     7 Bill Mounce notes the rarity of this term in Greek literature, occurring only one other time, in the 2nd century AD, in the sense of “repeating.” He accepts “two-faced” as a functional metaphor but favors “gossip” as a better option (“Double-Tongued Deacons,” Monday with Mounce [4 Oct. 2020], <Link>).
     8 N. J. D. White, “First and Second Timothy and Titus,” EGT 4:114. 
     9 Ibid. 4:115. 
     10 H. D. M. Spence, “First Timothy,” in NT Commentary 3:192.
     11 For the prospective deacon: “Will drinking make me a better deacon? Will it improve my thinking? Will it strengthen my character? Will it expand my influence? Will it add value to my ministry?” (A. Johnson, Dynamic Deacons 24).
     12 H. K. Moulton, Analytical Greek Lexicon Revised 349. Paul uses the same verbal proscriptively in regard to “myths and endless genealogies” (1:4) and “deceitful spirits and teachings of demons” (4:1); positively with respect to “the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching” (4:13). In the context of 4:1, “the verb denotes at a minimum the depth of interest or attention that leads one to be convinced … in the case of wine, the term denotes what amounts to addiction …” (P. H. Towner, Letters to Timothy and Titus 109).
     13 “It was common practice in antiquity to dilute wine with water so that one would retain the enjoyment but refrain from getting drunk too easily…. in most cases the water was proportionately more than the wine” (Myrto Theocharous, Lexical Dependence and Intertextual Allusion in the Septuagint 140). See also Everett Ferguson, “Wine as a Table-drink in the Ancient World,” ResQ 13 (1970): 141-53. 
     14 Without the adj. “much” in 3:8, there would be an apparent discrepancy with the words of 5:23. 
     15 “In the first century, wine was used for reasons besides amusement or escape. Issuing a blanket policy was not the answer to wine’s ill effects. Exercising spiritual discretion was. In our day and culture, with pharmacies and convenient stores on every corner and the benefits of preservatives and refrigeration, wine is not the product of choice for hydration, water-purification, or medication” (A. Johnson, Dynamic Deacons 25). 
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