Before you read my answer, I want to make clear that I have no formal training in Biblical studies or the Greek language (which may become obvious as you read my answer). I use a couple of different Greek/English translators.
I’m just a construction worker with a high school degree. But I love the Lord and have an insatiable desire to draw closer to Him through a better understanding of His word.
I pray that your love will overflow more and more, and that you will
keep on growing in knowledge and understanding.
This is the KJV translation of 1 Timothy 3:10
And let these also first be proved; then let them use the office of a
deacon, being found blameless.
The key word is “deacon”. Below is how it is written in Greek, with the KJV translation of each word directly below the Greek.
De houtos kai proton dokimazō eita diakoneō ousa anegklētos
And these also first prove then deacon being blameless
Couple things interesting about this…
The KJV says….”use the office of deacon”. But the Greek does not say that, it only says diakoneō. When translating from one language to another, it’s acceptable (even required sometimes) to add some English words in order for it to make sense. Because the word for word translation is sometimes hard to understand in English. (And these also first prove then deacon being blameless) But, they have to be careful not to distort or change the original thought.
The other thing to notice about 1 Timothy 3, is the verse before 3:10…..verse 3:8. This verse uses a different Greek word, which is also translated “deacon”.
1 Timothy 3:8 (KJV)
It's similar to “diakoneō”, but it is slightly different….. “diakonos”. One is a noun and one is a verb (A little further down I will show why that is important).
So, is ”use the office of deacon” an example of a distorted translation? Was there even such a thing as “office of deacon” back when Paul wrote this letter to Timothy? We hear “office of deacon” today, and we think pastor or preacher, but is that what Paul meant?
If “diakonos” is a “deacon” (like church pastor), then Romans 16:1 becomes a big topic of discussion, because Phobe (a female) is referred to as a “diakonos” in Romans 16:1
Phoibē hēmōn adelphē ho diakonos ho ekklēsia
Phoebe our sister the deacon the church
It also brings John 2 into the discussion. This is the story of the first miracle of Jesus, when he turns the water into wine. The verse of interest here is John 2:9
John 2:9 (KJV)
ho diakonos antleō ho hudatos eidō
the servants which drew the water knew
If diakonos is a deacon, then did “deacons” draw the water? No, because at this point in history there was no church to be the deacon of. So why is it translated “servant”? Because another translation of diakonos is “servant” or “minister”. Not minister in the sense of “pastor”, but minister in the sense of “I will minister to your needs”.
Now “deacon”, like “minister”, is not necessarily an incorrect translation of diakonos, because a deacon is a servant, a servant of the church. A deacon is defined as an “office of ministry” (usually ministering to the needs of the poor, needy and hungry). But, viewing these words “deacon” and “minister” through modern day English, we think pastor or leader. So it can be misleading.
But “servant” is a word that can be placed into these verses, which makes sense contextually, and is understandable with both the time it was written, and with modern English.....and without contradicting another verse. But, before I do that, there is one more grammatical clarification that needs to be pointed out, and that is the (2) similar words I discussed above:
---Diakonos is a noun, meaning “a servant”
---Dikoneo is a verb, meaning “to serve”
So, using the translation of “servant”, let’s go back and see what those verses look like
1 Timothy 3:10
And let these also first be proved; then let them serve (diakoneo), being found blameless.
1 Timothy 3:8 (KJV)
Likewise must the servants (diakonos) be....
Romans 16:1 (KJV)
I commend unto you Phebe our sister, which is a servant (diakonos)
John 2:9 (KJV)
….the servants (diakonos) which drew the water knew
On a side note…..
You will notice that the KJV translation of Romans 16: 1 already has diakonos translated as “servant”, which should cause us to raise an eyebrow. Because in 1 Timothy, which is talking about the qualities of a church leader, the KJV translates diakonos as “deacon. But, in Romans 16:1, when diakonos is talking about a female….they translate it as “servant”.
No, I do not agree with this situational translation. This could arguably be seen as a male biased translation. Meaning, the predominate view of the time has shaded the meaning towards their view.
But in fairness, I would also like to point out that the modern-day NLT translates diakonos, in Romans 16:1, as deacon. Yet, in John 2:9, they translate diakonos as servant. So, is this the opposite of a male biased translation? Meaning, is this modern-day NLT translation trying to appease the masses, or “shade the meaning towards the predominate view of the time” (Egalitarian), by translating Romans 16:1 as “deacon”?
Or, are both of these examples of an honest attempt to translate Greek, (a 3,000 year old language) into an understandable modern day English? I think both could be true, and that’s why the preservation of the old text is so important.
But, let’s go back to the translation of “servant”.
In 1 Timothy 3, I focused on just two verses, in an effort to start to wrap our minds around the word diakonos. But let’s take a closer look at the whole chapter, because 1 Timothy 3 discusses the qualities of church leaders.
Starting with Verse 8, where we first see the word diakonos, here is what it looks like when it is translated “servant”
8 Likewise must the servants be grave, not doubletongued, not
given to much wine, not greedy of filthy lucre; 9 Holding the mystery
of the faith in a pure conscience. 10 And let these also first be
proved; then let them serve, being found blameless. 11 Even so must their wives be grave, not slanderers, sober, faithful in all things. 12 Let the servants be the
husbands of one wife, ruling their children and their own houses well. 13 For they that have served well purchase to themselves a good degree, and great boldness in the faith which is in Christ Jesus.
Before we move on, there is another verse tucked in here that is also a big part of the debate….Verse 12.
12 Let the deacons servants be the husbands of one wife….
When translated as “deacon”, one side of the debate points to this as part of the validation that pastors need to be men (husbands of one wife). The other side points to Romans 16:1 and says that Paul refers to Phebe (a female) as a deacon. But, when it is translated with the word “servant” it removes these verses from the debate.
What is left, is what appears to be a contradiction in the Bible. Because even when you translate it as “servant”, how can Phebe (a female) be a servant….when 1 Timothy 3:12 says that a servant is to be “the husband of one wife.”
Again, it comes down to the difficulty of translating Greek into English.
Greek does not have a separate word for “woman” and “wife”. “Gune” is the Greek word for both “wife” and “woman”. So, its translation is determined by its context.
(just in case someone feels as though this is another example of the male dominated society of the times…..”aner” also meant “husband” or “man”, depending on how it was used).
So let’s take this same group of verses and move forward with the translation of “servant”, but now look at the translation of “gune” (and aner).
8 Likewise must the servants be grave, not doubletongued, not given to
much wine, not greedy of filthy lucre; 9 Holding the mystery of the
faith in a pure conscience. 10 And let these also first be proved;
then let them serve, being found blameless. 11 Even so must women be
grave, not slanderers, sober, faithful in all things. 12 Let the
servants be the husbands (aner) of one wife (gune), ruling their
children and their own houses well. 13 For they that have served well
purchase to themselves a good degree, and great boldness in the faith
which is in Christ Jesus .
In verse 12 we leave “aner” and “gune” translated as “husband” and “wife”, because of the context in which it is used……it’s immediately followed by “ruling their children well”
But, in verse 11, if we translate “gune” as “women” it now gives the qualities of a female servant, and coincides with Romans 16:1:
I commend unto you Phebe our sister, which is a servant of the church
Now let’s look at the verses before 1 Timothy 3:8-13.
1 Timothy 3:1-7
1This is a true saying, if a man desire the office of a bishop, he
desireth a good work. 2 A bishop then must be blameless, the husband
of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behaviour, given to hospitality,
apt to teach; 3 Not given to wine, no striker, not greedy of filthy
lucre; but patient, not a brawler, not covetous; 4 One that ruleth
well his own house, having his children in subjection with all
gravity; 5 (For if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall
he take care of the church of God?) 6 Not a novice, lest being lifted
up with pride he fall into the condemnation of the devil. 7 Moreover
he must have a good report of them which are without; lest he fall
into reproach and the snare of the devil.
“the office of bishop” is probably not the best translation, because again, the question is…..was there an “office of Bishop” at the time that Paul wrote this? The Greek word used is “Episkopē”. Another translation besides bishop is “overseer” (or elder).
Hē pistos logos ei tis oregomai episkopē
This is a true saying, if a man desire the office of a bishop
On a side note, the definition of the Greek word “tis” is not “man”….it means “a certain one” or “someone”. But “man” is not an unreasonable translation, because the very next verse says that a bishop (or an overseer) is to be “the husband of one wife”. Again, context is important when translating (but they could have said….if someone desire the office of bishop)
But here is the significant part of these verses…
These verses (1 thru 7) are clearly a list of qualities for a church leader..….very similar to verses 8-13 that give a list of qualities for a church “servant” (as a matter of fact, when you put them side by side….they’re almost identical). But there are (2) important differences.
• The end of verse 2 says, “apt to teach”.
The qualities for a church servant, and the qualities for a church leader, are very similar….. but “apt to teach” is only listed under the qualities of a church leader….or overseer.
• There are no qualities listed for women under church leader.
But there are qualities listed for women under church servant.