There are still two matters in this section under consideration to which we must call attention.
The first of these is the question of the meaning of Paul in verse 13, where he speaks of the “good degree” (King James Version) which is acquired by those who serve well in the office of a deacon, and also what is, to be understood when Paul speaks of the “great boldness, in the faith which is in Christ Jesus” in connection with such a good service as deacon.
The text in verse 13 reads as follows: “for they that have used the office of a deacon well purchase to themselves a good degree, and great boldness in the faith which is in Christ Jesus.”
It may serve our purpose best in the interpretation of this verse to call attention to the two different interpretations which have been given and are held by interpreters of reputation.
In the one class of expositors it is held that Paul has reference in the term “good degree” (kalos bathmosin the Greek), to a “higher ecclesiastical office,” that is, “the office of a Bishop.” It is then held that the office of a bishop is higher and more honorable in character than that of a deacon. Thus some. Others hold that the “good degree” refers to a “higher stage of life of faith, an increase in perfection.” Thus possibly those who have a rather strange view of the increase of holiness in the saints in this life. Still others hold that this refers to the expectancy of a greater glory in the life to come; somewhat in the order of what Jesus says concerning those who are here faithful over little and who shall be placed, in the future heavenly glory, over much.
The other class of interpreters holds that Paul has reference here simply to a good “standing” in the office of the deacon in the church; the Greek term “bathmos” then refers not to a “degree” but to positive standing in the office.
We, after having given considerable thought to this exegetical point, are of the considered opinion that the latter view correctly interprets the meaning of the Apostle.
In the first place, because the term “good” (kalos in Greek) should not be interpreted as a comparative adjective, an adjective in comparative degree. The sense then is that it means: better! Such is not the sense of the term; it simply means: good. The interpretations which refer this to a “better” degree either in the office in the church, a higher office of Bishop, or greater degree of holiness, overlook this fact.
Secondly, because a greater office is not indicated by that of a bishop over a deacon. Such is contrary to the plain teaching of Paul in this chapter; both required the same high moral requisites. The office of the priesthood of Christ is not inferior to that of His kingship. This is an erroneous conception which I have met with more than once in my ministry. In fact, I once received an official protest that a man who had been elder was put on nomination for deacon; that wasdegrading for the man, it was opined! Now Scripture knows nothing of this superiority of the office of a bishop over that of a deacon. The bishop is an overseer not over other officebearers, but over the congregation.
Thirdly, although it may be conceded that the Scriptures do teach a “good degree” in the life to come, a greater glory, this does not prove that such is the teaching of Paul here. For the Scriptural teaching of the “good (better) degree” in the life to come we refer to the teaching of Christ in Luke 16:9 where we read: “Make to yourselves friends of the unrighteous Mammon; that, when ye fail, they may receive you into everlasting habitations.”
On the basis of these considerations we reject the interpretation which holds to a “higher degree,” either in official standing or in personal holiness.
Rather we accept the interpretation which refers this “good degree” (kalos bathmos) to a good standing in the office of deacon as does Joh. Huther in the Commentary of the Meyer Series.
We do so in consideration of the fact that Paul adds to the notion of good “degree” by way of aposition (epexegesis), “and great boldness in the faith which is in Christ Jesus.” It seems to the undersigned that unless the former be interpreted in the light of the latter we do not interpret Scripture here in the light of Scripture.
Now Paul speaks in this added phrase of “boldness.” The term in the Greek is parresian, which means: candor, freedom in speech. More generally it means: bold courage in action, and then, lastly, it refers to firm confidence in something.
There are those who would interpret this phrase in the technical sense: of boldness in the forgiveness of sins and in the hope of standing in that day. Thus we read in Hebrews 4:16 that we “approach with boldness to the throne of grace.” Here there is no doubt as to the reference of this boldness. Again in I John 3:21 the writer refers to boldness toward God in that Day when God shall judge the world in righteousness. However, here there is no such reference.
We hold that Paul does not exclude “boldness toward God,” nor does he in this phrase lose sight of “boldness to come near to the throne of grace”; however, it seems to us that the immediate reference here is this fundamental bold ness in the office of the deacon. It is the boldness in Christ which one acquires as gift of grace in faithful service of being a deacon. And, therefore, the “good degree” is not a higher office, but it is a good standing in the office by virtue of boldness in the Lord. He is the trust and confidence of all who labor well in the office, more and more.
That Paul thus teaches in connection with the deacon should not surprise us. For particularly in the office of the deacon we see the “good works” of faith of the church as they proceed from faith and are performed according to the law of God. (See Question 91 of the Heidelberg Catechism.) Further, it should not be overlooked that the pedagogical, spiritual-ethical reason for “good works” is exactly that we may be assured of our faith out of the fruits. (Ques. 86, H.C.)
Now if this be true of the good works in general of all the saints, why would this not be true in a marked degree of those who are not simply occupied with mere humanistic philanthropy, but who are the official messengers and administrators of the gifts of the mercy of Christ, as they proceed from the hearts of those in whom the Spirit dwells?
The second matter, to which we alluded above, and now must call more particular attention to is the question whether Paul in verse 11 refers to the “wives of the deacons” or whether this refers to a special group of women known as “deaconesses.”
Here too we really have two different interpretations by interpreters of name and fame.
The first interpretation holds that Paul here speaks of the requisites for women to be elected to the office of deaconess. The reasons assigned by these is that the term “likewise” in verse 11, must, just as in verse 8, refer to a transition to a new class of office, of ecclesiastical persons. Since Paul make a transition from the office of “bishops” to that of deacons in verse 8, when he says “likewise,” thus also here he makes a transition from the office of “deacon” to that of “deaconess.” And to this it is added that it must, therefore, be held that Paul here speaks of the qualifications which are necessary for those women who should be elected into this office.
The second interpretation holds that Paul here speaks of the “wives” of the deacons. Attention is called to the fact that Paul does not really begin to speak of a new and different class of officebearers (deaconesses) but that he must refer to the wives of deacons since he inserts this instruction in the midst of his instruction concerning the necessary qualifications of the deacons, who will be called to the office. Besides, it is noticed that Paul does not here speak of “deaconesses” but that he simply speaks of “women,” while there are passages where Paul, referring to women set aside to the special ministry in the church, denominates these with the name “deaconess” or “servant.” Compare Rom. 16:1 as well as I Tim. 5:9-13.
We are of the opinion that the latter interpretation is the correct one. We believe that it is the more natural sense of the text; it is less forced in its sense. Besides, how easily could Paul not have written “deaconess” had he thus meant.
In the light of the above interpretation we still stand before the question: why Paul gives a special admonition concerning the wives of the deacons which he does, not explicitly state concerning the wives of the bishops!
It would certainly be erroneous tot infer from Paul’s silence on that score that the wives of the elders and, ministers should: not also be grave, temperate and not slanderers. That is true even of every Christian, for all are to live from faith according to the second table of the law. However, that it is mentioned here by Paul must find its reason in the circumstance that particularly the wife of the deacon had occasion to, have contacts in the congregation which others did not. Thus it would seem to me.
That particularly these elements are mentioned indicates the relation of these women to their brethren and sisters in human relations. Now the deacon’s wife must be no she-devil, a slanderer. Women, seemingly, are more given to slander than men, while men are more subject to being double-tongued.
Since these wives of the deacons too are in the house of God, the temple of the living God, they must put the shoes from off their feet. All things must be done in decency and good order!
Whether Paul came to see the church of Ephesus yet is a question; he met the elders on the shores of Melita.
Meanwhile Timothy has his instruction to, which he must give heed.
The fundamental thought which must fill his soul and direct him is that the directions pertain to the church of the living God.
We too should keep this in mind, in all things whether they be lawful or spiritually profitable. For the offices: are put in the church for the edification of all.