Let's Go Back to the Bible

Using the Word “Minister” in the Way the Bible Uses It

Who is a “minister”?  It is common today for that word to be capitalized (“Minister”), as a way of designating a title given to someone (both in a government and in a religious setting).  In the church, the word is used almost exclusively as a title for those who preach, those who work with the youth, and those who are hired by the church to fill other roles.   How does the Bible use that word?

In the Old Testament, the word “minister” is most often used as a verb, to describe those men who served as priests, when they came to “minister to the Lord,” “minister in the holy place,” “minister before the ark of the Lord,” etc.  It was a term used almost exclusively for the priests and Levites.

In the New Testament, the word “minister” is much broader and is used in describing a variety of persons and their labors.  Note that it is not used exclusively of a select group of individuals.  We might most often think of the word being used to describe the work of Paul (1 Cor. 3:5; Eph. 3:7), Apollos (1 Cor. 3:5), Timothy (1 Thess. 3:2), Tychicus (Eph. 6:21; Col. 4:7), Epaphras (Col. 1:7), and others.  However, the word is not being used in those passages as a title for those men, but instead, it was used to describe their labor.  How can we know that?

The Greek word for “minister” that is used in each of those texts to describe those men is the word diakonos.   That word is used in a variety of ways for a variety of individuals.  As we have noted, it is used of various preachers.  It is also used for “deacons” in the church (Phil. 1:1; 1 Tim. 3:8, 12).  The same word is used of civil rulers, who are “the minister of God” (Rom. 13:4), and it is also used to describe “Satan’s ministers” (2 Cor. 11:14-15).  A sister in Christ in Cenchrea was also called a diakonos (Rom. 16:1).  Thus, that word is used of many different people.

The noun diakonos is most often translated “servant” (as in Matt. 20:26; 23:11), and the verb form diakoneo is most often translated “serve” (as in Matt. 4:11; Luke 10:40).  Jesus Himself said that He came to diakonos (i.e., to minister, to serve) (Mark 10:45).  So, what’s the point?

The word “minister” is not used in the New Testament strictly in the form of a title for the local preacher at the church.  It is a descriptive term of a “servant,” which is a quality that a preacher should have, but it is a universally-needed quality and an action in which every Christian must engage (Heb. 6:10; 1 Pet. 4:10).  In other words, every Christian is a “minister,” in the Biblical sense of the word, and not just the local preacher.  It is not wrong to call him a “minister,” but let us recognize that all of us are “ministers” just as much.