Of Apostles, Bishops, Deacons, and Other Ministers

On Apostleship
Scripture identifies or indicates a number of persons whose ministry rises to the level of apostleship. These include but are not limited to the original twelve and Paul.

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Apostles include the original twelve (Matthew 10:1-4). These are followed by Matthias (Acts 1:26, Paul (Galatians 1:1), Barnabas (Acts 14:14), James, the Lord’s brother (Galatians 1:19), Epaphroditus (Philippians 2:25 – here the Greek word translated messenger is the same Greek word translated apostle elsewhere), Silas and Timothy (I Thessalonians 1:1 and I Thessalonians 2:6 combined), and two unnamed apostles (II Corinthians 8:23 – again the word translated messenger is elsewhere translated apostle); and most likely Titus given his role similar to Timothy (Titus 1:5 and II Corinthians 8:16-23). There are perhaps others who scripture does not identify or indicate.

On the Word Minister
The term minister fundamentally means one who serves; this service can be in a variety of contexts. This context can be the church proper as in spiritual preaching/teaching in the church assembly. This context can be meeting temporal needs in the community of faith as in the case of the Seven in Acts 6. By extension this meeting of temporal needs includes commercial business and politics in the community of faith and beyond in general. Hence, nations such as Great Britain have government heads called Ministers as in servants of the people. Also, commercial businesses properly aim to serve or be of service to or meet the needs of customers. Indeed, capitalism works best when it is viewed as an enterprise/activity of service rather than one of greed or over-enrichment of the business owner and select staff.

Indeed, in Acts 6:1 in the phrase “widows were neglected in the daily ministration”, the Greek word (Strong’s #G1248) translated ministration is the same Greek word translated ministry in the phrase “ministry of the word” in regards to the apostles in Acts 6:4. This same Greek word is translated administrations in 1 Cor 12:5 and service in Rom 15:31 and 2 Cor 11:8.

A related Greek word (Strong’s #G1249) is translated minister in the phrase “whereof I was made a minister” in regards to Paul speaking of himself in Ephesians 3:7. This same Greek word is translated deacons in the phrase “likewise must the deacons be grave” in 1 Tim 3:8. This same Greek word is translated servant in the phrase “Phebe our sister, which is a servant of the church at which is at Cenchrea. in Rom 16:1”.

A related Greek word (Strong’s #G1247) is translated serve in the phrase “serve tables” in regards to the Seven in Acts 6:2 and ministered in the phrase “ministered unto him” in regards to the angels ministering unto Jesus in Matthew 4:11. This is also true of the word deacon (Strong’s #G1247) in the phrase “office of a deacon” in 1 Tim 3:10.

Bishopship and Deaconship are prominent ordained leadership functions of a regional or local congregation or church organization. In this context the words elder, overseer, pastor and functional equivalent words are synonymous with bishop. These are synonymous in the sense that each of these words suggest some level of rulership or authority over others with respect to spiritual matters. These are generally considered part of what is called the clergy in contrast to laity. Yet, there are some churches/denomination who have what they call lay pastors and lay elders.

Note that in the biblical text both bishops and deacons are ordained male ministers/servants with general or limited authority and responsibility. As such bishops and deacons are a specialized group of ministers in contrast to other members of the body of Christ (I Timothy 3:1, 8 and Philippians 1:1).

A hierarchy of bishopship and deaconship may be defined within a regional and/or local church organization such that lower levels are increasingly limited in focus and scope of authority and responsibility. Deacons occur below bishops in the organization hierarchy.

In general a bishop has authority and responsibility according to the level and scope of his calling (e.g., Ephesians 4:11). Yet his authority and responsibility may be limited within a particular assembly and/or context.

Bishops focus on spiritual matters but may have a measure of responsibility and authority for temporal matters. Deacons focus on temporal matters but assist the bishops in spiritual matters. Bishops and deacons necessarily cooperate in carrying out their respective functions.

Scriptures that provide sufficient evidence of this division of leadership into bishops and deacons include I Timothy 3 and Philippians 1:1. Acts 6 also speaks of a division of leadership although the words bishops and deacons are not used. Of course, we know that the apostles are bishops/elders by definition and as explicitly stated by Peter in Acts 1:20 and I Peter 5:1, and in 2 John 1:1 and 3 John 1:1.

There are different levels of formal certifications (licensing and ordination). The presence of Deacons below Bishops is one example. Ministers other than bishops and deacons may be licensed and/or ordained to support the work of the church. Such licensing and/or ordination certify that such persons have a level of spiritual calling, maturity and/or training that ordinary congregation members do not possess. Such certification may be general or limited/specific to a particular function and level/scope of authority and responsibility.

For a deeper understanding of the word ordain one should note the following concerning the Greek (G2525, kathistemi) word translated ordain in the phrase “ordain elders in every city” (Tit 1:5): With respect to position this word is also translated ruler (Matt 24:25; made (Luke 12:24 with respect to being made a judge or divider; and Acts 7:10 with respect to being made a governor); and appoint (Acts 6:3 with respect to the Seven). Note that with respect to Acts 6 some denominations view the Seven as the prototype for the office of the Deacon (1 Tim 3:8); indeed, they use the terminology of ordaining Deacons.

With regard to public spiritually-oriented activities, licensed ministers should function in conjuction with a local church rather than as an independent ministry; this does not apply to relatively private activities such as in one’s home, or business so long as one is not doing so as an official representative of the church. Ordained ministers should also so function except they may function independently as authorized by their ordination if they deem it appropriate, e.g. Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, a nonprofit. In general, non-licensed and non-ordained members of the body of Christ should not independently conduct public spiritually-oriented activities. However, they may independently have bible study and prayer in private with family, friends, and neighbors on a rather irregular basis.

Examples of non-Bishop and non-Deacon ministers seemingly include Luke (Acts 16:10 where he says “the Lord had called us for to preach the gospel unto them.) and Phoebe (Romans 16:1-2 although some suggest Phoebe was a Deacon; however, this would seemingly be inconsistent with 1 Timothy 3:8-13.). Also note there is no biblical indication that Phoebe was a public preaching-minister. Also note there is no biblical indication that Phoebe had any public authority over men.

Different Levels of Shepherdship
As indicated above, the words pastor, bishop, and elder may be used interchangably depending on what aspects of the person/function one is referencing. Above, different degrees or levels of ministry are mentioned above.

In some circles the word pastor is commonly used to refer to the senior minister at a local church. Such local churches may also have assistant pastors and/or associate pastors. Such words sometimes differ in meaning details.

Here we focus on the use of the word pastor. All Christians are called to pastor or shepherd at a general level in the sense of feeding people with knowledge and understanding (Jeremiah 3:15). In Jeremiah 17:16, Jeremiah is identified as a prophet and pastor. There is no biblical evidence that Jeremiah ruled on a local congregation nor is he positioned as ruling over the nation in the sense that King David did as prophet and King.

So then given that the words pastor and shepherd may be used in a general sense, some churches have what they call lay pastors. Such lay pastors may be assigned non-ruling authority or have restricted ruling authority.

Evangelism is the act of preaching the salvation gospel of Jesus Christ. It takes place primarily outside the church building. However, some evangelistic activities may take place within the church building. The evangelist spends most of his ministry time traveling outside the church building either to the world or within the local community at large.

Evangelistic focus is on inviting persons to become members of the body of Christ through acceptance of Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour. Its focus is not on maturing existing believers. However, the evangelist may be called upon to authoritatively and independently answer and resolve spiritual questions posed by potential male and female believers as Philip did with the eunuch (Acts 8:34).

Within the body of Christ, evangelism occurs at various levels. All believers are called to engage in evangelism at some level including everyday witnessing. However, not all believers are set apart as an evangelist. By biblical example the evangelist in contrast to general evangelism is a function carried out primarily independently as in the case of Philip. It may also be carried out in conjunction with other functions such as apostle, prophet, pastor, etc.

In the scriptures only Philip is explicitly identified as an evangelist (Acts 21:8). Paul does tell Timothy to do the work of an evangelist (II Timothy 4:5) but he was not called an evangelist because his role was more than that of an evangelist. Some call the gospel writers (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John) as evangelist. However, this is to be taken in a general sense rather than in the sense of Philip, the evangelist. For one thing, we know that Matthew and John were definitely apostles which of course involved evangelism.

For information on women in ministry see Of Male Headship and Women in Ministry

For more info see Of Biblical Ministry Functions, Titles of Address, and Positions


I provide the following external reference for information purposes. I do not necessarily agree with everything contained therein. Note that the word pastor as used in the article “Reasons Women Should Not be Pastors” should be viewed as one who heads a local or regional congregation.

National Baptist Convention USA Inc. – Pastor and other Clergy

What on earth is a Catholic Evangelist?

Reasons Women Should Not be Pastors

For discussion on the concept of the Senior Minister see The Case for the Senior Pastor
and What is a Senior Pastor and Why Do We Have One?
and Why we don’t have a senior pastor
and Answering the Key Questions About Elders

To God Be the Glory!

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