Did you know that the word “mission” is completely missing from the New Testament?

mmlogorgDid you know that the word “mission” is completely missing from the New Testament?  Even when the NASB uses the term in Acts 12:25, “And Barnabas and Saul returned from Jerusalem when they had fulfilled their mission, taking along with them John, who was also called Mark,” it’s really not the word “mission.”  What does your favorite translation say?
In discussing mission and ministry last night with our Discipleship Group, we discovered that the singular use of the word “mission” in Acts 12:25 is the exact same word that is used for “ministry,” in the Greek.  The word “diakonian” διακονίαν means “service.”  Even when spoken of in the plural, as in the case of 1 Corinthians 12:5, “And there are varieties of ministries, and the same Lord,” it still means “services.” (diaconates)

One of the most popular references used for “ministry,” is Ephesians 4:12 where the ESV translates it this way, “to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ.”  The NIV is truer to the original when it translates the verse this way, “to equip his people for works of service, (diakonias) so that the body of Christ may be built up.”  
This means that “mission” and “ministry” are virtually synonymous, and both words spring from service.  Ultimately, this also means that there are no missionaries or ministers, biblically speaking, just servants, or deacons. 
What implications does this have for The Church? 
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    1. We have assigned the word missions to a concept that is plainly evident in the bible. Go ye into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. Many words have more than one meaning. Your post above is not logically sound.

      About as logical as:
      The wind blew.
      I can not see you.
      The wind caused me not to see you.

      • Actually, we didn’t even “assign” it – it’s just the Latin version of it. And since the entire Bible made a rather large pit stop (1300 years or more!) being read and understood primarily in Latin, it makes sense that we’ve brought the words forward.

        And they’re not synonyms.

        “Minister”, in Latin, means “servant”. And “missio”, from which we get “mission”, means “sent away”. So a “minister on a mission” is a servant who we sent somewhere.

        Strong’s Dictionary (which is a phenomenal *and* free resource for people fumbling in the dark with original languages) supports the distinction. Diakonia is the word for “service”, Diakonos is the word for “one who serves”. Oddly enough, “diakonos” is where we get our word for “deacon”.

        Strictly speaking, the word “servant” isn’t in the Bible either. As mentioned before, it’s “diakonian”.

        This is why I don’t like pretty much any statement of the form “did you know ____ isn’t in the Bible?” By that logic, “Jesus” isn’t in the Bible. It’s Iesous, and it’s not pronounced the same.

        What you’re really doing is arguing over the nitpicky details of the words people used to *translate* the Bible. And the more I learn about the nuances of Greek and Hebrew, I don’t pretend to have a better handle on that than people who have spent their whole lives studying it.

        English is a remarkably simplistic and simple language compared to New Testament Greek.

        • Robert,

          “Diakonia is the word for “service”, Diakonos is the word for “one who serves”. Oddly enough, “diakonos” is where we get our word for “deacon”.

          That is the point. “whoever wants to become great among you must be your deacon.”

    2. Of course, the word trinity is not found in the NT or OT text, yet we establish orthodox Christian belief by means of it, among other things.

      Missions isn’t mentioned, yet the work [ministry] of making disciples, both near and far, is in Jesus’ last command to the church, his disciples.

      I’m not sure of your point? We are called to be ministers of God’s grace, ministers of reconciliation, ministers of God. All this is our “mission” as His people.

      • Charles,

        The point is that many assume the role of ministers or missionaries and ignore the “whoever wants to become great among you must be your deacon” part. (Mark 10:43)

    3. A few years ago, a friend and I were invited to travel to Africa with a group of believers from our area. When asked what we were going to do while we were “over there,” our answer was, “The same thing we do when we’re ‘over here’ – proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ to unbelievers and build up and be built up by other believers.” The only difference? We would be over there instead of over here.


      • Alan,

        I wish that what most mission teams did “over there” was the same as what they did where they came from, but it’s rarely the case.

    4. Wow, looks like some of you guys waaay missed the point here. Correct me if I’m wrong here Miguel, but I took it that what you meant was that unlike pastors, teachers, evangelists, etc. there are not only certain people ‘called” to be missionaries, but it is the duty of all who consider themselves servants of Christ to at least do the missionary thing sometimes.

      But then again, I follow his blog pretty close, and gather that more from his other blogs than this particular one.

      • That would seem to countermand the summary:

        “Ultimately, this also means that there are no missionaries or ministers, biblically speaking, just servants.”

        And I would tend to agree there, to a point. If you think of it that way, there aren’t pastors, teachers, or evangelists either – just servants with gifts that enable them to preach, teach, or evangelize. And that’s perfectly valid theology.

        But when you strike words like “mission” from Biblical vocabulary, you get verses like:

        “And Barnabas and Saul returned from Jerusalem when they had fulfilled their service, taking along with them John, who was also called Mark,”

        “Fulfilled” means “finished” here (feel free to cross-reference your Greek resources), so you have the Bible saying they’d “finished their service”. Which, if “service” is intended to be an ongoing thing (which it is, right?), makes far less sense than “finished their mission”…..doesn’t it?

        The translators of the NASB translate this one word nine different ways, and it’s not because they don’t know that the word means “service”.

        All Bible translation is an exercise in attempting to balance literal translation with modern understandability. Words don’t exist in a vacuum; they exist in context. Sometimes “ministry” makes more sense. Sometimes “service” makes more sense. And depending on the word’s range of meanings, sometimes the best reading of a passage with what you would think is a perfectly clear word isn’t nearly as clear as you’d like it to be.

        So, no. I guess it’s not really the word “mission”. You guys win. But it’s not really the word “service” either. It’s the word “diakonia”, and it translates to at least nine English words depending on context.

        “The word ‘mission’ isn’t in the Bible” is a good headline, but it’s thoroughly irresponsible translation work. And if we’re trying to be good servants, isn’t it our responsibility to get these things right?

        • Robert,

          If the translation of the words “servant” or “service” brings disunity to the body, then I’ll stick with diakonia etc. Titular “Ministers,” and even self-proclaimed “missionaries,” can create unbiblical distinctions within the body and foster unbiblical hierarchical structures.

    5. Interesting discussion in the comments. I don’t think we take the idea of “mission” from that single verse Acts, rather we see disciples living out a mission they were assigned, aka commissioned to. And I’m not sure the “missional movement” takes it’s nomenclature from this verse either. Interestingly, much is made of the Message translation of John 1 that “Jesus moved into the neighborhood.”

      That being said, I think the broad point is that there should be no distinction between “ministers” and “servants” and if we’re in “mission” together then there shouldn’t be a clergy-laity divide when it comes to spreading the Gospel. As stated above, we are all ministers of the reconcilliation and we are all a priesthood of believers.

    6. Perhaps this post also speaks to the fact that we Christians elevate “pastor” (shepherd) in our church systems far too often above other “service giftings”, such as the evangelist, teacher, prophet, apostle. If we see one another as all having service gifts, equally important, then there is no need to put any one person on a pedestal. Without all eyes facing a pedestal, perhaps we can get to the business of being the servants we are called to be…

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