"I recommend to you Phoebe our fellow believer, who is a deacon (diakonoV) of the assembly in Kenchreai." Romans 16:1
"διακονος, diakonos, ‘deacon’. Not ‘slave servant’ which is δουλος, doulos. In the context of religion, the word meant an attendant or official. The word was taken over into Christianity as a church official, that is, a minister or deacon, as the terms were at first synonymous, ‘deacon’ being the transliteration (putting Greek letters into English letters) of the Greek, and ‘minister’ being the translation. There is ample evidence that women were deacons, in precisely the same role as male deacons, in the 1st and 2nd centuries. Initially, women deacons were referred to simply as ‘deacons’ and not ‘deaconesses’. However, as the church became more institutionalized in the 3rd c., the role of ‘deaconess’ arose and this is not to be confused with the role of ‘deacon’ (male or female). The papyri provide much conclusive evidence for women office holders in early Christianity. See, for example, the woman Alexandra, an ‘over-deacon’ in an inscription from Apollonia in Pontus (Thrace), cf BE (1963) 152. An epitaph for the woman Kale, an ‘elder’ is reprinted in AE (1975) 454 (Centuripae, Sicily). A Christian letter twice mentions a woman called a ‘Master Teacher’. The text is published by M. Nagel, ZPE 19 (1975) 317-323. Pliny (Ep 10.96.8) records female deacons under Trajan (late 1st, early 2nd centuries). An inscription on a 6th century marble stele states, ‘Here lies Maria the deacon.’ (G. Jacopi, R. Inst. D’Arch. E. Storia dell’ Arte, 1937, 33-36, figs. 135-7. (Cappadocia, VI))
A 5th or 6th century epitaph speaks of a female deacon. (J. Wiseman, Stobi. A Guide to the Excavations, Begrade, 1973, 59-60.) A 4th century epitaph from Jerusalem mentions ‘Sophia, deacon’: ‘Sophia, deacon, the second Phoebe, who fell asleep in peace on the 21st of the month of March during the 11th indiction.’ (ed.pr. Garducci, EG IV.445 (fig. 132).) The following inscriptions have female most God-beloved deacon Agrippiane” (early Christian period, SEG 425); inscription at Mt. Hymettos in Attika, no date (IG III, 2.x.3527); long epitaph for the deacon, Athanasia, ordained by Pantamianos, early 5th c., EG IV.345-47 (Delphi, V1); family tombstone for a mother and her children. One of the daughters, Agaliasis, is a deacon, 4th century, EG IV.3368-70 (melos, IV); inscription in memory of the deacon Eugeneias, Turkey, ZPE 18.46."
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Footnotes above are taken from The Source: With Extensive Notes on Greek Word Meaning, p.276-77. Copyright © 2004 by Ann Nyland. Used by permission of Smith and Stirling Publishers. All rights reserved.