Category Archives: Greek

The Greek Word Diakonos in Romans 16:1

The Greek word diakonos is often translated as deacon. It is a New Testament term that refers to leaders or ministers in the local church body. This post is about how the term is translated in Romans 16:1, when it refers to the person of Phoebe.

Here’s the NIV translation of diakonos when referring to Phoebe: Romans 16:1 I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a servant of the church in Cenchrea.

Here’ the NIV translation of diakonos elsewhere when referring to a man: 1 Timothy 3:12 A deacon must be faithful to his wife and must manage his children and his household well.

I was curious how different English translations would handle these two passages, given the possible relevance to women in leadership. Here are the results:

Notice that in 1 Tim 3:12 diakonos is always translated as deacon. But in Romans 16:1 when it refers to Phoebe it is frequently translated as servant.

Servant does not at all convey the idea of leadership, while the word deacon does. We can’t be certain what Phoebe’s role was in the church in Cenchrea, however, I don’t believe that the word servant adequately conveys the leadership aspect of her role.

Specifically, I wonder if there is translation bias going on here. The translators who are suspicious of female leadership pick the word “servant”. The translators who advocate female leadership pick the word “deacon”.

The gender specific translations (ESV, NASB, NKJV) go with servant (which interestingly is also a gender neutral term). The usually more gender neutral translations (NRSV, TNIV, NLT) go with deacon. None go with the female specific term of deaconess, although the NIV and ESV do list that as a footnote alternative (to their credit).


Filed under Bible Transalations, Greek

Adoption – The Inheritance of a Son

Therefore you are no longer a slave, but a son; and if a son, then an heir through God. Galations 4:7

Adoption (huiothesia) is a term that the apostle Paul uses several times in his letters. The Greco-Roman concept of adoption is different than the English concept. In English we use adoption as an action verb. For example a father “adopts” a son. The Greco-Roman concept of adoption refers to something that sons receive. Sons are not adopted. Rather, sons receive the adoption (Gal 4:1-7). This conceptual difference of what adoption is can contribute to a misunderstanding of certain Biblical passages. In the context of the Arminian / Calvinist debate, the meaning of adoption directly relates to our interpretation of Ephesians 1.

In English we associate adoption with parents taking a baby into their family. The baby is “adopted”. He is an outsider prior to adoption, and a son after adoption. However, Huiothesia refers to the standing of someone who is ALREADY a son. Adoption is the right of a son. Adoption is the “inheritance”, “promise”, or “reward” that the son receives as an heir. A father makes promises to his children. These promises are the adoption. Huiothesia is not synonymous with salvation (entrance into the family). Rather, it is the promise of God received by those who are believers in Christ Jesus (Gal 3:22-27).

The reward of the adoption occurs now and after death. This can be seen in Romans 8 (bold mine):

For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, “Abba! Father!” -Rom 8:15 (NASB)

And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body. -Rom 8:23 (NASB)

Observe in Romans 8:23 that Paul speaks of believers who wait for their adoption. There is a distinction between believing and the adoption. Conversely, sonship (having the legal rights of a son) doesn’t guarantee that the son will apply and benefit from those rights. This can be seen in Romans 9:1-5 (bold mine)

I am telling the truth in Christ, I am not lying, my conscience testifies with me in the Holy Spirit, that I have great sorrow and unceasing grief in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed, separated from Christ for the sake of my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh, who are Israelites, to whom belongs the adoption as sons, and the glory and the covenants and the giving of the Law and the temple service and the promises,whose are the fathers, and from whom is the Christ according to the flesh, who is over all, God blessed forever. Amen. (NASB)

Here Paul refers to the nation of Israel – his brothers. Israel has the rights of the adoption, but is failing to apply and benefit from those rights. Again, we see Paul treat adoption as a position rather than an action.

Now, let’s take a look at Ephesians 1:5-6. It is my contention that understanding the Greek concept of adoption takes away the Calvinistic flavor that is sometimes attributed to the passage (bold mine):

In love He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. (NASB)

This could be accurately translated as follows:

In love He predestined us [believers] to receive an inheritance as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved.

In other words, God doesn’t arbitrarily adopt particular humans to join his family. Rather, He promises believers an inheritance as His sons in Christ Jesus.

In conclusion, adoption is a standing that believers have as sons in Christ Jesus. The Pauline concept of adoption is best understood as the position of a believer. It is not an action.

(I’m currently reading Hodwinked and Happy by Daniel Gracely. He gets credit for exposing me to this concept of adoption. Along those lines, here is a good article on adoption by T. Pierce Brown that Gracley also quotes in his book. Brown goes on some tangents about baptism and the NIV, but it is good read nonetheless.)

Leave a comment

Filed under Adoption, Calvinist proof texts, Ephesians 1, Greek, Romans 8, Romans 9


Foreknowledge means to have knowledge of something before it happens. In scripture there are are references to God’s foreknowledge of those who will believe in Jesus. Those whom God foreknows, he also elects to be saved.

The Greek word – proginosko
Proginosko is the word used in the New Testament that today we translate as “to foreknow”. It literally means “to know before”. The word breaks down like this: Pro (before) ginosko (to know).

We are familiar with this word in English. For example: a doctor will give a prognosis. And someone who makes predictions is called a prognosticator.

The word in its noun or verb form is used several times in the New Testament to explain the foreknowledge of God or of individuals. Here are some passages where the word is used:
Acts 2:23
Acts 26:4-5
Romans 8:29
1 Peter 1:1-2
1 Peter 1:20
2 Peter 3:17

Arminians believe that foreknowledge works like this: God has exhaustive knowledge of the future, thus He “prognosticates” it perfectly. God knows who will believe in Jesus. Those who believe are elected. Election is corporate in scripture (those who believe) as opposed to individual election. The Arminian understanding of foreknowledge is apparent in passages like Romans 8:29 and 1 Peter 1:2

(Bold mine – represents the Greek word for foreknowledge)

Romans 8:28-29: And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. (NKJV)

1 Peter 1:1-2 Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To the pilgrims of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace be multiplied. (NKJV)

Calvinists err in their understanding of foreknowledge, confusing foreknowledge with predestination. They believe that God decrees whatever happens, so foreknowledge is only a byproduct of His decree. In Calvinist thought, foreknowledge is a synonym of election. But Romans 8:29 and 1 Peter 1:2 show instead that God’s election is a result of His foreknowledge, not the cause of it.

Another Calvinists interpretation of foreknowledge is “to forelove” instead of “to foreknow”. However, there is no justification for this interpretation in the context of the passages in the New Testament.

God is working for the good of those who love Him! He sees everything, he always knows what will happen, and He is always working on the behalf of those who He knows will believe. He is for us!


Filed under Arminianism, foreknowlege, Greek