The Word “Office”
It is common to hear people speak of “offices” within the “church.” Some see offices as “positions” established by God. They are part of the structure in the church given by God. The assumed belief is that the existence of these offices or positions is necessary for good church government to exist. Among people who see the necessity for official positions there is disagreement on the different divinely appointed offices thought to exist.
Some Bibles have the word “office” in a context that speaks of believers
The following list is passages that mention “office” followed by the bible translations.
- Acts 1:20, another was to take Judas’ “office” (WEB, ASV, NAS, and RSV).
- Romans 11:13, Paul magnifies his “office” (KJV, WBS).
- Romans 12:4, all members do not have the same “office” (KJV, ASV, DBY, WBS, and YLT).
- First Timothy 3:1, if a man desires the “office” of an overseer, he desired a good work (WEB, KJV, ASV, WBS, NAS, and RSV).
- First Timothy 3:10, the “office” of a deacon (KJV, WBS).
- First Timothy 3:13, the “office” of a deacon (KJV, WEY, WBS).
- Second timothy 4:5, Timothy was to discharge fully the obligations of his “office” (WEY).
What is the definition of “office”?
Among the more common uses for the word “office” is when speaking of a position, a function, a place, or power. Depending on its context, the word office can refer to “a position of authority in administration” or “the fact or state of holding a public position of authority.” An example of this usage is when we speak of men in office. If we approach the reading of the passages previously cited with this understanding, then it is easy to imagine a “church” having individuals who occupy “positions” of authority. First Timothy 3:1 and First Timothy 3:10 tell us these positions include “overseer” and “deacon.” We might also look at Ephesians 4:11 and envision the offices to include “some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers.” The alleged belief is the presence of these offices is vital among local voluntary fellowships. Is the conclusion that offices are necessary for good church government to exist true? What if we set aside our thoughts of what the term “office” means and take a closer at how the scriptures read?
We should think in terms of not “office” but of service, ministry, or work . . .
Romans 11:13. “For I speak to you Gentiles, inasmuch as I am the apostle of the Gentiles, I magnify mine office” (KJV). Some translations read “ministry.” Which translation is more accurate, office or ministry? How can we know? The Greek word is diakonia. It means service or ministering. It appears 34 times in the New Testament. In nearly every place where we see the word diakonia, our bibles read serving, ministry, or something similar. The one exception is Romans 11:13. Why did the translators of the King James Version use a different word this one time? The passage speaks of Paul being an apostle. Could it be the translators approached the passage with a preconceived belief of the Lord’s body having offices? The accurate rendering of diakonia is not office but ministry or service.
Acts 1:20 “For it is written in the book of Psalms, ‘Let his homestead be made desolate, and let no one dwell in it’; and, ‘Let another man take his office’” (NAS). Does this passage support the concept of an apostolic office? The account relates the selection of Matthias to take Judas’ “office.” In this passage, the Greek word that corresponds to office is episkope (ep-is-kop-ay’). It occurs in only three other passages. In Luke 19:44 and First Peter 2:12, it is the word translated “visitation.” Youngs Literal Translation reads “inspection.” Both Luke and Peter use the word when speaking of God’s visitation in judgment. The third occurrence is First Timothy 3:1, rendered “bishop” or “overseer.” Episkope is from episkeptomai (ep-ee-skep’-tom-ahee), which means to view, inspect, visit. The prefix epi “denotes the activity of looking at or paying attention to a person or thing.” Episkeptomai is the word translated “visited” in Matthew 25:36, “I was sick, and you visited me.” Jesus was speaking of people who took notice of another’s need and responded accordingly. It is also in Luke 1:68. Zacharias said, “Blessed be the LORD God of Israel, for He has visited us and accomplished redemption for His people. Again, the concept is seeing a need and responding to it. Peter saw the twelve chosen by Jesus as having a ministry, diakonia (Acts 1:17). With Judas no longer numbered among the twelve, Peter knew someone else was to “take his office” and “occupy” or take part in “this ministry” (Acts 1:20, 25, compare Psalm 109:8). The twelve did not occupy an “office” but rather paid attention to a special ministry or service given them personally by Jesus, a special ministry in which they all took part. It is to this ministry that one would take the place of Judas.
First Timothy 3:1. “This is a true saying, If a man desire the office of a bishop, he desireth a good work” (KJV). Young’s Literal translation reads, “Steadfast is the word: If any one the oversight doth long for, a right work he desireth.” Robert Young’s translation does not have “office.” The Greek-English Interlinear also omits the word. In defining the Greek words found in this text, the Greek scholar, educator and editor William Edwy Vine (1873-1949) wrote the following.
“In 1 Tim. 3:1, the word ‘office,’ in the phrase ‘the office of a bishop,’ has nothing to represent it in the original.”
The word rendered “bishop” or “overseer” is episcope. Paul make’s the argument that if a man reaches out in looking to or paying attention to others with the intent of helping then he desires a fine work. The passage is not speaking of “aspiring to the office of overseer” as some translations have. Paul goes on to say the person who desires to pay attention to others needs to be “above reproach.” The word “office” should not be in the text. (To see this thought further developed, read the article on “Overseer.”)
First Timothy 3:10, 13 “10And let these also first be proved; then let them use the office of a deacon, being found blameless. 13For 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” (KJV). After observing the word “office” to not have anything representing it in the original, in First Timothy 3:1, Vine goes on to write the following.
…so in vv. 10, 13, where the A.V. has “use (and ‘used’) the office of a deacon,” the R.V. rightly omits “office,” and translate the verb diakoneo, to serve, “let them serve as deacons” and “(they that) have served (well) as deacons.”
As in the other passages, we have a context in which Scripture speaks of serving or ministering and not an office. Instead of reading “let them use the office of a deacon,” a more accurate rendering is “let them serve as deacons.”
Romans 12:4. “For as we have many members in one body, and all members have not the same office” (KJV). The Greek word that appears in place of “office” is praxis (prax’-is). Thayer defines it as a doing, a mode of acting. Paul compares the believers’ relationship to a body having many members. His use of praxis relates to the members of the one body. Some translations, such as the New American Standard Updated version has the word “function,” which agrees with what Paul says of the body having many members. It also accurately conveys the meaning of praxis that Thayer gives. The concept of “office” does not fit the metaphor of “many members in one body.”
Second Timothy 4:5 “But as for you, you exercise habitual self-control, and not live a self-indulgent life, but do the duty of an evangelist and fully discharge the obligations of your office” (WEY). The last passage we briefly take note of is from the Weymouth New Testament in Modern Speech. Richard Weymouth’s translation has “office” in Second Timothy 4:5. Other translations correctly read “ministry.” The Greek word is diakoneo, which we already defined as meaning serve or minister.
Closing thoughts . . .
In this writing, the focus has been on the word “office.” The primary concern has been to examine the inspired texts where some Bibles read office. Either we found the word not translated correctly or there was nothing to represent it in the original text. Based on what we saw of how the scriptures read, is it appropriate to use the word “office” in the context of a local fellowship (or church)? If we use it, what is the context of its use? How do we intend for others to understand the word? The passages addressed in this writing do not support the concept of the redeemed having “offices.” Words like apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor, teacher, overseer, bishop, or deacon apply to ministries or types of services. The Scriptures use these words in the context serving but not as positions that individuals held. Perhaps those who favor using the term “office” based on Scriptures addressed in this writing may want to search other Scriptures.
by Richard Amick