The actual etymology of the word "diakonos" is unknown, although one school of thought suggested it is derived from a combination of "dia" and "konos", literally "through dust". We do know it was used as a catch-all term for servants and service.
Ordinarily, at the time of Jesus Christ, the word used for servants would be "diakon”. The use of "diakonos" appears to place the service in a specifically Christian context. We do know it was not originally a gendered word.
Paul frequently described the disciples, Jesus and Phoebe as "diakonos". Often in reading the scriptures today it is all too easy to assume that a woman engaged in service was making meals or setting the table and a man engaged in service was performing ministry. We unintentionally use our own context as the lens through which we look at another.
What would the Holy Scriptures say if we could hear them spoken by the 12 disciples? What would they say if we lived in 33AD?
It's a question that is impossible to answer. We are only human after all and we cannot erase 2,000 years of memories, of wars, cultural changes and technological advances. We can no more return to the world in which a human Jesus lived than we can see into the future. Yet the question remains; What did the scriptures say 2,000 years ago?
Language is a slippery beast; the minute it is written the interpretation will change. Each person who reads a piece of text will interpret it differently because each will see it differently. We've all heard the old adage about walking a mile in another's shoes but I admit I often find myself at a loss as to how to do this.
Many people have attempted to place the Scriptures within their own context. Some have been very entertaining, albeit with a clear twenty-first century influence, like the television show AD The Bible Continues that chronicles the events immediately following the crucifixion.
Feminist interpretations of the bible have also grown in number. These began with The Women's Bible in 1895 written by Elizabeth Stanton and have led to a new publication last year titled Une Bible Des Femmes. This book, written by Elisabeth Parmentier and Lauriane Savoy, strives to return the Scriptures to their rightful historical context and encourage the reader to question the assumptions they each make.
There are many books that offer an attempt to show a different perspective on our sacred texts. While feminist readings of the Bible are near and dear to my heart, it occurs to me that these books give us a far greater gift than simply elevating the status of women in the New Testament. They give us the chance to peek through a different lens, to see a new perspective of Christ's teachings.
We can never return to 33AD, we won't ever be able to sit at the feet of Jesus Christ and hear his words for ourselves, but every new interpretation we read extends our own knowledge and understanding. By sharing our views and hearing the perspectives of others we get ever closer to discovering what it was that the New Testament was telling us.
As a Christian community, our greatest gift is to hear the stories of others, and to learn to see God through the eyes of others. It is through this connection that we journey ever closer to that moment two thousand years ago. We may never quite reach it, but we can move ever closer to our God.