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. Jesus is the Apostle and High Priest of our profession (Hebrews 3:1) and Shepherd and Bishop of our souls (1 Peter 2:25).  Beyond Jesus, apostles include but are not limited to the original twelve and Paul.  The Greek word Apostolos (G652) is sometimes translated messenger in the KJV (Philippians 2:25; 2 Cor 8:23).

An apostle is a bishop as conclusively determined from the following scripture where the Greek word (G1984) translated bishoprick is the same Greek word translated bishop in 1 Tim 3:1 –

(Act 1:20)  For it is written in the book of Psalms, Let his habitation be desolate, and let no man dwell therein: and his bishoprick let another take.

(1Ti 3:1)  This is a true saying, If a man desire the office of a bishop, he desireth a good work.

Thus, those scriptures demonstrate two types of bishops: one who is an apostle and one who is not an apostle.

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 where the plural form of apostle is indicated by use of the word we which refers back to verse 1), 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.

With respect to Barnabas as an apostle note the following:

(Act 13:2)  As they ministered to the Lord, and fasted, the Holy Ghost said, Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them.


(Act 14:14)  Which when the apostles, Barnabas and Paul, heard of, they rent their clothes, and ran in among the people, crying out,

After praying all night in the mountain, Jesus called his disciples unto him and from them he chose/ordained twelve whom he named apostles (Luke 6:12-13; Mark 3:13-14; Matthew 10:1-2). However, Jesus seemingly never referred to the twelve using the word apostle as he often used their first name or alternate name. In Acts 1:25 the eleven remaining after Judas departure refers to themselves using the word apostleship as they participated in the selection/election of Mathias to take the apostleship/bishopship of Judas (Acts 1:20, 25). Note that Matthias was among those who had been with them and Jesus for a long time (Acts 1:21-22). Yet, in his selection/election he was now promoted to a higher status/state than general discipleship. Thus, Acts 1:12-26 validates the concept of the twelve been in a group distinct from general discipleship and indicate the validity of the concept or principle of seniority in ministry.

Note also that this group of Twelve apostles is distinct from Paul’s apostleship as Paul is not one of the Twelve.  A unique characteristic of the Twelve is set forth by Peter in Acts 1:21-22 which says:

(Acts 1:21)  Wherefore of these men which have companied with us all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us,
(Acts 1:22)  Beginning from the baptism of John, unto that same day that he was taken up from us, must one be ordained to be a witness with us of his resurrection.

Note that Peter says that to be counted among the Twelve one must have physically been with Jesus all the time during his earthly ministry on earth at the point of his baptism and never left him but stayed with him physically until that day Jesus ascended.  Of course, Paul does not meet that criteria.  So Paul is an apostle but not one of the Twelve.  This means that apostleship has different criteria and not all apostles meet the same criteria.  In fact, there is no biblical indication that apostles such as Barnabas saw the Lord in either of the special ways the Twelve or Paul saw him; hence the Ephesians 4:11 indicated inclusion of the word apostle along with other ministries the Lord gives in every generation according to his will and purpose. God is just that big!

Therefore, it is useful for some purposes to consider the Twelve along with Paul as major apostles with a number of others as minor apostles much like the church world group the Old Testament prophets into major prophets and minor prophets.  Of course, God does not so group.  Yet, humans may righteously do so for human communication and consideration purposes as long as there is an understanding and projection that all the apostles preached and taught a unified doctrine. Accordingly, those (Ephesians 4:11) who came to believe on Jesus Christ through their word (John 17:17-23) are to also preach and teach a unified doctrine consistent with their unified doctrine. 

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” with 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 is translated deacons in 1 Tim 3:8; 1 Tim 3:12; and in reference to Paul writing to bishops and deacons in Phil 1:1. In Rom 16:1 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”. This same Greek word is translated minister in all other places in Paul’s writings as in the phrase “whereof I was made a minister” with regards to Paul speaking of himself in Ephesians 3:7 as well as in 1 Cor 3:5 regarding Paul and Apollos being “ministers by whom ye believed” and 2 Cor 3:6 regarding Paul and others being ministers of the New Testament. Numerous other places in the word translated minister in Paul’s writings. Moreover, G1249 is translated minister with respect to Jesus being a “minister of the circumcision” in Romans 15:8. In Rom 13:4, the same Greek word is translated ministers with respect to the phrase “ministers of Christ”.

Let’s look at the word deacon in more detail. In Tyndale translation of 1534 the Greek word G1249 in 1 Tim 3:8, 12 is translated Deacon. In Bishop bible translation of 1568 G1249 in 1 Tim 3:8 is translated minister but in 1 Tim 3:12 it is translated Deacon. In Geneva bible translation of 1587, it is translated Deacon in both verses. In Phil 1:1 all three translated it as Deacon. Therefore, with respect to 1 Tim 3, it seems that the words minister and deacon are synonymous as to the intent of scripture. This means that 1 Tim 3:

The Greek word G1249 is also used in the gospels. In the KJV it is translated as minister in Matt 20:26 and Mark 10:43. However, in the KJV it is translated servant in Mark 9:35; John 2:5,9; and John 12:26. In the Geneva bible of 1587 it is translated servant in Matt 20:26 and Mark 10:43. Therefore, it seems that the words minister and servant are synonymous in those scriptures.

Now let us look at Rom 16:1-2 concerning Phebe where in the KJV the Greek word is translated servant. In Tyndale and Bishops bible translation it is translated as minister but in the Geneva as servant. Therefore, based on those scriptures it seems that the words minister and servant are synonymous with respect to Phebe. Note, however, that the word translated business (G5532) in Acts 6:3 regarding the Seven is not the same Greek word (G4229) in Romans 16:2. The G4229 of Rom 16:2 is elsewhere translated thing or matter. In Rom 16:2 the Greek word (G4368) translated succourer appears only once in the bible and it means assistant; indeed, Paul says Phebe had assisted him and many others. Thus, from Rom 16:1-2 it is impossible to conclude the level or type of Phebe ministry.

A related Greek word (Strong’s #G1247) is translated serve in the phrase “serve tables” with regards to the Seven in Acts 6:2 and ministered in the phrase “ministered unto him” with regards to the angels ministering unto Jesus in Matthew 4:11. In 1 Tim 3:10 Strong’s #G1247 is translated using the whole phrase “they that have used the office of a deacon”. Therefore, the KJV translators could have used the phrase they that minister. Yet, it seems they wanted to parallel the phrase office of bishop (G1984) in 1 Tim 3:1 and office of deacons in 1 Tim 3:10 as these two are considered the required offices/functions in a local church. Note that with respect to both 1 Tim 3:1 and 1 Tim 3:10 there is no Greek word for the word office as used in both of those scriptures. (In fact G1984 is found in Acts 1:20 and it is simply translated as bishoprick such that the word office is not included with respect to Matthias taking Judas place). It seems 1 Tim 3 is one of the rare places the KJV translators interpreted the text so as to conform to the church organization and terminology in use at the time of the translation rather than using the word for word translation which is the usual case in the KJV. The translation of the Greek word G3957 as Easter in Acts 12:4 is another rare place in that in every other place that Greek word is translated Passover. In a word for word translation, it most likely should have been translated as Passover since the people who attended the celebration during bible time would have most likely been mostly Jews attending to the annual Passover. Another example is Luke 2:49 where KJV says Jesus says he must be about his Father’s business. In that scripture there is no Greek word for business so some translations use house instead of business.

Bishopship and Deaconship are prominent ordained leadership functions of a regional or local congregation or church organization; in this congregational/organizational leadership 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.

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 communicate 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 conjunction 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. Ordained ministers include not only elders but also Deacons such as Stephen who operated independently. 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.

Different Levels of Shepherdship
As indicated above, the words pastor, bishop, and elder may be used interchangeably 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/denominations have what they call lay pastors and lay elders. The duties are such lay pastors/elders various in these churches/denominations.  Such lay pastors/elders should have the same qualificationsas clergy pastors/elders.  They are generally unpaid workers in ministry.   Their duties may be restricted to be a subset of the clergy pastors/elders. Such lay pastors and lay elders may be assigned non-ruling authority or have restricted ruling authority. United Methodist Church has Certified Lay Ministers (CLM), Certified Lay Speakers, and Certified Lay Servants. Seemingly, Certified Lay Speakers and Certified Lay Servants may serve in pulpit supply but not as clergy as they require supervision by clergy.

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.

In a sense, to evangelize is fundamentally about telling others about the realness of God as Creator, that he has a standard which is defined In the Holy Bible (AKJV), that all have failed to meet the standard and thus all have need of a savior and that through his love for humankind God has provided that savior as expressed in Jesus Christ and him crucified.  Thus all believers like the Samaritan woman (John 4:39) are called to evangelize but not all are set apart to be what the bible calls an evangelist.

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) and therefore mature believers to sound doctrine.

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

and Lay Elders

Info on United Methodist Church CLMs, Etc.

To God Be the Glory!

Church Organization and Worship

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