Priscilla the first deacon?

I heard someone comment today that Stephen was not the first deacon, Priscilla was.

Never heard this before…what’s the argument for this?

I believe the argument for this may be largely based on the desire to prove that the Catholic Church is wrong about the male-only priesthood.

The scriptures used to show that Priscilla or Phoebe were deaconesses as we currently understand deacons – men who receive the sacrament of Holy Orders – are misunderstood with regard to the original language, etc.

Evenso, Stephen is named as one of the first deacons. Priscilla is mentioned much later.

If you’re disturbed by this person’s comments, read through some of the Church Fathers writings on the topic of female “priests” – Catholic Answers has a very good article on the subject.

God bless you!


I thought Priscilla was the first wife of Elvis.

The basis is likely that Priscilla and her husband Aquila are often mentioned as teachers and members of the 70 deciples (atleast Aquila is included here). That being said St Stephen and the other protodeacons are clearly given ministerial duties that are specific to the deacon (e.g. tending to the temporal needs of the Church).

One other thing that speaks against Priscilla being the first deacon is that Acts (18:2-3) says that Paul met the couple shortly after Claudius expelled the Jews from Rome. Claudius reined from 41-54. The best estimate of this edict is somewhere between 49 and 53 AD. On the other hand we know that St Stephen was martyred shortly after Christ’s death and resurection (around 34 AD). Also note that Paul met the couple after his conversion which was preceded by St Stephen’s martyrdom.

Long and short is that Priscilla did not even meet St Paul until perhaps 15-20 years after St Stephen was killed. Kind of hard for her to be the first deacon if she wasn’t even on the scene when Saul watched St Stephen being stoned.

No, she is queen of the desert.

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First, it’s anachronistic to assume that our current orders, or pre-Vatican II orders, were present in the New Testament. The emergence of the stationary clergy and its various orders were not settled until the late 1st century or beyond. Even in the New Testament (e.g., 1 John), there are descriptions of itinerant clergy (including St. Paul himself), which seem to have disappeared with the emergence of stationary bishops.

Secondly, the word in the New Testament διάκονος (diakonos) is used for those conducting different types of service or ministry. Again, we should beware anachronism in assuming that the early church assigned particular offices to all of the various ministerial responsibilities of clergy. 1 Corinthians 12:28-31, for example, suggests a distribution of different tasks among different “offices,” if such a term existed then.

As to who was the first deacon, it’s worth distinguishing the age of the documents from the chronological history. In terms of age of the documents, Paul’s letters are the oldest extant texts of the New Testament. In that regard, the oldest historical references to people as “diakonoi” were in his letters. Priscilla is mentioned in 1 Corinthians, and she was likely present in his long stay in Corinth which can be reliably dated to around 49-51 AD.

That being said, St. Stephen’s stoning was before Paul’s conversion, which itself can be reliably be dated to 34-37 AD. Acts 6:1-7 describes how he was selected among “seven reputable men,” on whom the apostles laid hands for particular service. This would put Steven, in all likelihood, well before Priscilla.

The people who are a bit more hard to place historically are Andronicus and Junia in Romans 16:7, which says,
"Greet Andronicus and Junia, my relatives and my fellow prisoners; they are prominent among the apostles and they were in Christ before me. "

What this verse means has been heavily politicized (i.e., by the partisans of whether or not Junia was a female apostle), but in any case, they were “in Christ” before Paul. This puts their conversions – and “prominence” possibly before 34-37 AD. Might these people be deacons? It’s hard to say, but it does provide a parallel history to that told in Acts.

No St.Stephen was the first deacon. St.Priscilla might have been the first deaconess.However in one of St.Paul’s letters,he mentions Phoebe who I assume was also a deaconess. There is a lot we don’t know about the early deaconesses in the church. What there exact duties were beside assisting women and children in regards to baptisim etc.

Well, not Stephen per se, but the Seven.

Great replies… thanks!

St. Stephen is called the Protomartyr because he was the first martyr. While he was one of the first group of seven deacons, I’ve not heard the Church say that he was THE first deacon.

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