The earliest references to local resident leaders in the Pauline churches are Philippians 1:1 and Romans 16:1-2. Paul addresses his letter to the community at Philippi with their episkopoi and diakonoi(both masculine plural titles in Greek, both terms borrowed from secular leadership). These are the terms that later came to mean “bishop” and “deacon.” The episkopoi cannot mean here “bishop” as we understand it because there are many in one community. The role of the diakonoi also had not yet evolved into that which was later understood as deacon. The revised edition of the New American Bible translates the words as “overseers” and “ministers” and acknowledges in a note that the later development had not yet taken place.
Masculine plural forms are used in Greek to refer either to groups of men or to groups of mixed gender. In Romans 16:1-2, Paul introduces to the letter’s recipients a woman named Phoebe, a benefactor who is also a diakonos of the church at Cenchreae, one of the seaports of Corinth. Thus we know that women could hold this title at the time, and therefore the diakonoi in Philippi could be a mixed group. If the episkopoi of Philippians were heads of house churches, as seems likely, it is not impossible that some of them were also women (for example, Nympha in Colossians 4:15).
The account in Acts of the Apostles 6:1-6 of the apostles choosing seven men to take care of table service is usually considered the origin of the office of deacon, yet no one in the story is called diakonosand the apostles appoint them for the diakonia of the table so that the apostles can devote themselves to the diakonos of prayer and the word. All perform diakonos of different kinds.
Source: National Catholic Reporter