Adam Clarke Commentary
The Hellenistic Jews complain against the Hebrews, that their widows were neglected in the daily ministration, Acts 6:1. To remedy the evil complained of, the apostles appoint seven deacons to superintend the temporal affairs of the Church, Acts 6:2-6. The progress of the word of God in Jerusalem, Acts 6:7. Stephen, one of the deacons, becomes very eminent, and confounds various Jews of the synagogues of the Libertines, etc., Acts 6:8-10. They suborn false witnesses against him, to get him put to death, Acts 6:11-14. He appears before the council with an angelic countenance, Acts 6:15.
A murmuring of the Grecians against the Hebrews - Those who are here termed Grecians, Ηλληνισται , or Hellenists, were Jews who sojourned now at Jerusalem, but lived in countries where the Greek language was spoken, and probably in general knew no other. They are distinguished here from those called Hebrews, by which we are to understand native Jews, who spoke what was then termed the Hebrew language, a sort of Chaldaio-Syriac.
It is not reason - Ουκ αρεστον εστι , it is not pleasing, proper, or fitting, that we should leave the word of God, that we should give up ourselves, or confide to others, the doctrine of salvation which God has commanded us to preach unto the people.
And serve tables - Become providers of daily bread for your widows and poor: others can do this, to whom our important office is not intrusted.
Wherefore - look ye out among you seven men - Choose persons in whom ye can all confide, who will distribute the provisions impartially, and in due time; and let these persons be the objects of the choice both of the Hebrews and Hellenists, that all cause of murmuring and discontent may be done away. Though seven was a sacred number among the Jews, yet there does not appear to be any mystery intended here. Probably the seven men were to take each his day of service; and then there would be a superintendent for these widows, etc., for each day of the week.
Of honest report - Μαρτυρουμενους Persons to whose character there is authentic testimony, well known and accredited.
Full of the Holy Ghost - Saved into the spirit of the Gospel dispensation; and made partakers of that Holy Ghost by which the soul is sanctified, and endued with those graces which constitute the mind that was in Christ.
And wisdom - Prudence, discretion, and economy; for mere piety and uprightness could not be sufficient, where so many must be pleased, and where frugality, impartiality, and liberality, must ever walk hand in hand.
Whom we may appoint - Instead of καταστησωμεν , we may appoint, καταστησομεν , we shall appoint, is the reading of ABCDE, and several others. It makes, however, very little difference in the sense.
We will give ourselves continually to prayer - Προσκαρτερησομεν , We will steadfastly and invariably attend, we will carefully keep our hearts to this work. The word is very emphatic.
Ministry of the word - Διακονιᾳ του λογου , The deaconship of the word. The continual proclamation of the Gospel of their Lord; and, to make this effectual to the souls of the hearers, they must continue in prayer: a minister who does not pray much, studies in vain.
1. Διακονοι της τραπιζης , deacons of the Table, whose business it was to take care of the alms collected in the Church, and distribute them among the poor, widows, etc.
2. Διακονοι του λογου , deacons of the Word, whose business it was to preach, and variously instruct the people. It seems that after the persecution raised against the apostolic Church, in consequence of which they became dispersed, the deaconship of tables ceased, as did also the community of goods; and Philip, who was one of these deacons, who at first served tables, betook himself entirely to preaching of the word: see Acts 8:4, etc.
In the primitive Church, it is sufficiently evident that the deacons gave the bread and wine in the Eucharist to the believers in the Church, and carried it to those who were absent, Just. Mar. Apol. ii. p. 162; they also preached, and in some cases administered baptism. See Suicer on the words Διακονος, Κηρυσσω , and Βαπτισμα . But it appears they did the two last by the special authority of the bishop. In the ancient Roman Church, and in the Romish Church, the number of seven deacons, in imitation of those appointed by the apostles, was kept up; and in the council of Neocaesarea it was decreed that this number should never be exceeded, even in the largest cities: vide Concil. Neocaesar. Canon. xiv. other Churches varied this number; and the Church of Constantinople had not less than one hundred. Deacons were ordained by the bishops, by imposition of hands. None was ordained deacon till he was twenty-five years of age, and we find that it was lawful for them to have wives. See Suicer under the word Διακονος , and see the note on Matthew 20:26.
In the Church of England, (the purest and nearest to the apostolical model in doctrine and discipline of all national Churches), a deacon receives ordination by the imposition of the hands of a bishop, in consequence of which he can preach, assist in the sacrament of the Lord‘s Supper, and in general perform any sacred office, except consecrating the elements, and pronouncing the absolution. No person in this Church can be ordained deacon till he be twenty-three years of age, unless by dispensation from the Abp. of Canterbury. There were deaconesses, both in the apostolic and primitive Church, who had principally the care of the women, and visited and ministered to them in those circumstances in which it would have been improper for a deacon to attend. They also assisted in preparing the female candidates for baptism.
Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Ghost - A person every way properly fitted for his work; and thus qualified to be the first martyr of the Christian Church.
Nicolas, a proselyte of Antioch - A heathen Greek, who had not only believed in the God of Israel, but had also received circumcision, and consequently was a proselyte of the covenant; for, had he been only a proselyte of the gate, the Jews could not have associated with him. On the word proselyte, see the note on Exodus 12:43. As this is the only proselyte mentioned here, we may presume that all the rest were native Jews. From this Nicolas, it is supposed that the sect called Nicolaitans, mentioned Revelation 2:6, Revelation 2:15, derived their origin. Dr. Lightfoot doubts this, and rather inclines to derive the name “from ניכולא (nicola), let us eat together; those brutes encouraging each other to eat meats offered to idols, like those in Isaiah 22:13, who said, Let us eat flesh and drink wine, etc.” Both Irenaeus and Epiphanius derive this sect from Nicolas the deacon. Clemens Alexandrinus gives this Nicolas a good character, even while he allows that the sect who taught the community of wives pretended to derive their origin from him. See on Revelation 2:6 (note).
And when they had prayed - Instead of και , and, the Codex Bezae reads οἱτινες , who, referring the act of praying to the apostles, which removes a sort of ambiguity. The apostles prayed for these persons, that they might in every respect be qualified for their office, and be made successful in it. And, when they had done this, they laid their hands upon them, and by this rite appointed them to their office. So then, it plainly appears that the choice of the Church was not sufficient: nor did the Church think it sufficient; but, as they knew their own members best, the apostles directed them, Acts 6:3, to choose those persons whom they deemed best qualified, according to the criterion laid down by the apostles themselves, that they should be of honest report, and full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom. Let us examine the process of this business:
1.There was an evident necessity that there should be more helpers in this blessed work
2.The apostles called the disciples together, that they might consider of this necessity and provide for it, Acts 6:3.
7.When this was done, they laid their hands upon them in the presence of the disciples, and thus appointed them to this sacred and important work; for it is evident they did not get their commission merely to serve tables, but to proclaim, in connection with and under the direction of the apostles, the word of life.
Let no man say that any of the things here enumerated was unnecessary, and let no Church pretend or affect to do without them.
1.No preacher or minister should be provided till there is a place for him to labor in, and necessity for his labor.
2.Let none be imposed upon the Church of Christ who is not of that Church, well known and fully approved by that branch of it with which he was connected.
9.And let the Church of God consider such a person as legitimately and divinely sent, and receive him as the ambassador of Christ.
The word of God increased - By such preachers as the apostles and these deacons, no wonder the doctrine of God increased - became widely diffused and generally known; in consequence of which, the number of the disciples must be greatly multiplied: for God will ever bless his own word, when ministered by those whom he has qualified to proclaim it.
A great company of the priests were obedient to the faith - This was one of the greatest miracles wrought by the grace of Christ: that persons so intent on the destruction of Christ, his apostles, and his doctrine, should at last espouse that doctrine, is astonishing; and that they who had withstood the evidence of the miracles of Christ should have yielded to the doctrine of his death and resurrection, is worthy of note. And from this we may learn that it is not by miracles that sinners are to be converted unto God, but by the preaching of Christ dying for their offenses, and rising again for their justification.
1.That such persons as these priests could be converted.
2.That the word οχλος , company, or multitude, could with propriety be applied to this class, which must have been inconsiderable in their numbers, when compared with the rest of the Jews.
To preserve the ancient reading, which is undoubtedly genuine, some have altered the text by conjecture; and, by putting a comma after οχλος , and a και before των ἱερεων , make the text read thus: And a great multitude, and some of the priests, were obedient to the faith. This conjecture is unnecessary, as there is no such difficulty here as to require so desperate an expedient, which is not recommended by the evidence of a single MS. or version.
1.The grace of Christ Jesus can save even a murderous Jewish priest: his death is a grand atonement for all crimes and for the worst of sinners.
2.In the twenty-four courses of priests, there was not a multitude merely, but multitudes: indeed the number of ecclesiastics at Jerusalem was enormous. A great company out of these might be converted, and yet multitudes be left behind.
Stephen, full of faith and power - Instead of πιϚεως , faith, χαριτος , grace, is the reading of ABD, several others, the Syriac of Erpen, the Coptic, Armenian, Vulgate, and some of the fathers. This reading Griesbach has admitted into the text. Some MSS. join both readings. Stephen was full of faith - gave unlimited credence to the promises of his Lord; he was full of grace - receiving the fulfillment of those promises, he enjoyed much of the unction of the Divine Spirit, and much of the favor of his God; and, in consequence, he was full of power, δυναμεως , of the Divine energy by which he was enabled to work great wonders and miracles among the people.
The synagogue - of the Libertines, etc. - That Jews and proselytes from various countries had now come up to Jerusalem to bring offerings, and to attend the feast of pentecost, we have already seen, Acts 2:9-11. The persons mentioned here were foreign Jews, who appear to have had a synagogue peculiar to themselves at Jerusalem, in which they were accustomed to worship when they came to the public festivals.
In the reign of Queen Mary, when popery prevailed in this country, and the simplest women who had read the Bible were an overmatch for the greatest of the popish doctors; as they had neither Scripture nor reason to allege, they burned them alive, and thus terminated a controversy which they were unable to maintain. The same cause will ever produce the same effect: the Libertines, Cilicians, Cyrenians, and Alexandrians, pursued this course: Stephen confounded them by Scripture and reason, and they beat his brains out with stones! This was the most effectual way to silence a disputant whose wisdom they could not resist. In the same way were the Protestants treated, when by Scripture and reason they had shown the absurdity and wickedness of that anti-christian system which the fire and the sword were brought forth to establish. These persecutors professed great concern at first for the souls of those whom they variously tortured, and at last burned; but their tender mercies were cruel, and when they gave up the body to the flames, they most heartily consigned the soul to Satan. Scires è sanguine natos: their conduct proclaimed their genealogy.
They there not able to resist the wisdom, etc. - He was wise, well exercised and experienced, in Divine things; and, as appears by his defense, in the following chapter, well versed in the Jewish history. The spirit by which he spake was the Holy Spirit, and its power was irresistible. They were obliged either to yield to its teachings, or were confounded by its truth. Several MSS. add to this verse, because he reproved them with boldness, they could not resist the truth. This reading is not genuine, though it exists (but in different forms) in some good MSS.
Then they suborned men - Ὑπεβαλον . They made underhand work; got associated to themselves profligate persons, who for money would swear any thing.
Blasphemous words against Moses, and against God - This was the most deadly charge they could bring against him. We have already seen, Matthew 9:4, that blasphemy, when against God, signifies speaking impiously of his nature, attributes, or works; and, when against men, it signifies speaking injuriously of their character, blasting their reputation, etc. These false witnesses came to prove that he had blasphemed Moses by representing him as an impostor, or the like; and God, by either denying his being, his providence, the justice of his government, etc.
And they - The Libertines, etc., mentioned before, stirred up the people - raised a mob against him, and, to assist and countenance the mob, got the elders and scribes to conduct it, who thus made themselves one with the basest of the people, whom they collected; and then, altogether, without law or form of justice, rushed on the good man, seized him, and brought him to a council who, though they sat in the seat of judgment, were ready for every evil work.
Against this holy place - The temple, that it shall be destroyed.
And the law - That it cannot give life, nor save from death. It is very likely that they had heard him speak words to this amount, which were all as true as the spirit from which they proceeded; but they gave them a very false colouring, as we see in the succeeding verse.
Saw his face, as it had been the face of an angel - Sayings like this are frequent among the Jewish writers, who represent God as distinguishing eminent men by causing a glory to shine from their faces. Rabbi Gedalia said that, “when Moses and Aaron came before Pharaoh, they appeared like those angels which minister before the face of the Lord; for their stature appeared greater, and the splendor of their faces was like the sun, and their eyes like the wheels of the sun; their beard like clusters of grapes, and their words like thunder and lightning; and that, through fear of them, those who were present fell to the earth.”
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