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Bible Commentaries

Cambridge Greek Testament for Schools and Colleges
Acts 6

 

 

Other Authors
Verse 1

1. ἐν δὲ ταῖς ἡμέραις ταύταις, now in these days. The words refer back to Acts 6:14 of the previous chapter, where we read ‘believers were added to the Lord, multitudes (πλήθη) both of men and women.’

πληθυνόντων κ.τ.λ. Render, when the number of the disciples was multiplying. The participle is in the present tense, and its meaning should be fully expressed. It was at the time when this sudden increase was in progress that the difficulty arose which led to the murmuring. The numbers of the society increased so rapidly that the superintendence of the relief of the needy claimed the full devotion of the Apostles, and proved in the end more than they could discharge.

ἐγένετο γογγυσμός, there arose a murmuring. The noun is not classical, but is found in the LXX. of Exodus (Acts 16:7-9; Acts 16:12) and Numbers (Acts 17:5; Acts 17:10), as well as in Wisdom (Acts 1:10-11) and in Sirach 46:7, κοπάσαι γογγυσμὸν πονηρίας, ‘to appease the murmuring of wickedness.’ By the readiness with which the Apostles took measures to remedy what was complained of, we may infer that there had been shewn sufficient cause for complaint. This may easily have come to pass without any fault on the part of the Twelve, simply from the sudden growth of the number of Christians. Chrysostom’s remark is οὐ γάρ ἐστιν ἀκρίβειαν ἐν πλήθει εἶναι.

τῶν Ἑλληνιστῶν. Properly applied to Greek-speaking Jews. These were either [1] Jews who had been born in countries where Greek was the vernacular, and so did not speak Hebrew, nor join in the Hebrew services of the Jews of the Holy Land, but had synagogues of their own in Jerusalem; or else [2] they were proselytes. In either case they had embraced Christianity as Jews for as yet the Gospel had been preached to Jews only. That provision was made for a Greek service for the foreign Jews we may see from T. Jerus. Sotah, VII. 1 (Gemara), ‘Rabbi Levi, the son of Hithah, went to Cæsarea, and heard the voice of the people saying the Shema (the name given to the Hebrew confession “Hear, O Israel, the Lord thy God, Jehovah is one,” from its first word) in Hellenistic. He desired to prevent them. Rabbi Jose heard of it and was angry, and said, Thus I say, that whosoever does not know how to read it correctly in Hebrew shall not read it at all [in that language], but does his duty [by reading it] in any language which he knows how to speak.’

πρὸς τοὺς Ἑβραίους, against the Hebrews. These were the Jews by birth, whose home was in the Holy Land, and who spoke that Aramaic dialect which the N.T. calls Hebrew.

ὅτιαἱ χῆραι αὐτῶν, because their widows were (overlooked, or) neglected, &c. Such widows, speaking a foreign language and being desolate, would be the persons most likely to be overlooked amid the increasing number of applicants for help.

ἐν τῇ διακονίᾳ κ.τ.λ. This noun is rendered in Acts 11:29 by relief, and, from the class of persons on whose behalf the complaint was made, it is clear that it bears the same sense here. The word διάκονος (deacon) has therefore been used as the name of these officers, whose appointment was at first made that they might have care of and distribute the funds contributed by the rich members for the relief of the needy. The appellation is nowhere directly given to the seven. They are still the seven in Acts 21:8. The deacons of the Pastoral Epistles are a later provision. We can nevertheless see from St Stephen’s work that the labours of the seven were not confined to relief-duties alone, for he is a mighty preacher and endued with gifts of the Holy Ghost in the same way as the Apostles. It is deserving of notice that, before we find any special arrangements made for what we now understand by ‘divine service,’ the regulation of the relief of those in need had become so engrossing a part of the duty of the Twelve as to have thrust aside in some degree the prayers and ministration of the word, which were especially their charge. In these early days they appear to have acted according to St James’ teaching (James 1:27), ‘Pure religion (θρησκεία) and undefiled before God and the Father is this, to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.’


Verses 1-7

Acts 6:1-7. MURMURING ABOUT THE DISTRIBUTION OF THE COMMON FUND. MEASURES FOR ALLAYING IT

By the confession of the high-priest himself (Acts 5:28) Jerusalem was now filled with the teaching of the Christians, and thus the first step was accomplished in the course which Christ had ordained (Acts 1:8) for the publication of the Gospel. Now, therefore, the historian of the Church’s progress turns to deal with other events and different persons, because he has to tell of a persecution which caused Christian missionaries to go forth for the next stage of the work, the spread of the faith through Judæa and Samaria (Acts 8:1). The means which God employed for this end are not such as an inventor in the second century would have been likely to hit upon, nor such as any writer who merely desired to magnify the Apostles would have adopted. A system for the more effectual relief of the widows among the congregation is devised, and an outburst of popular rage, causing the death of one of the dispensers of the relief-funds, disperses the greater part of the Church of Jerusalem. A person who was free to choose (as an inventor would have been) would scarcely have selected one of the seven deacons for the first Christian martyr, and have left the Apostles out of sight, while giving the history of Stephen. The choice of such a writer would have surely fallen upon one of the Twelve to be the first to die for the faith.


Verse 2

2. οἱ δώδεκα, the Twelve. They had found that there was cause for the complaint, and at once set about providing a remedy.

τὸ πλῆθος τῶν μαθητῶν. We are not from this to suppose that an attempt was made to gather every one who in Jerusalem called himself a Christian, but that a large and special meeting was convened, before which the Apostles laid their plan. The funds had been given by various persons, and were for the common relief; it was therefore fit that a change in the distributors should be considered in common.

οὐκ ἀρεστόν ἐστιν. Render, it is not pleasing (or fit). ‘Non est æquum,’ Vulg. The duties were not properly distributed. Those were now engrossed in business duties who alone could be the true exponents of Christ’s life and teaching.

καταλείψαντας κ.τ.λ., that we should forsake the Word of God. The verb is a strong one, and implies that the whole time of the Twelve was being consumed by these cares for the temporal wants of the brethren.

διακονεῖν τραπέζαις, to serve tables, means to preside at the bench or counter where the money was distributed. Cf. the τράπεζαι of the money-changers (Matthew 21:12), who are themselves called τραπεζίται (Matthew 25:27).

διακονεῖν is to discharge the διακονία mentioned in Acts 6:1.


Verse 3

3. ἐπισκέψασθε οὖν κ.τ.λ., but look ye out from among you. If the selection were committed to the whole body there could hardly fail to be an end put to the oversight and so to the murmuring.

ἀδελφοί, brethren. One of the earliest names employed in addressing the members of the Church, and particularly suitable to this occasion.

μαρτυρουμένους. Literally, attested, well reported of, as in 1 Timothy 5:10. The same word is rendered of good report afterwards in Acts 10:22.

ἑπτά. The number seven was probably fixed on because that was the number of persons chosen to manage public business in Jewish towns. See Mishna Megillah III. 1, ‘The men of the city who dispose of city market-places may buy with the price thereof a synagogue, or if they sell a synagogue, they may buy an ark (to keep the Law in), or if they sell an ark, they may buy wrappers (the ornamental and costly covers in which the Law was rolled) for the Law, and if they sell these wrappers they may buy books (i.e. the Prophets and the Hagiographa), and if they sell books they may buy a copy of the Torah, but if they have sold a Torah they may not buy books,’ and so on in the contrary order.

On this ordinance it is said, T. B. Megillah 26 a, ‘Raba says, This is only applicable when the seven good men of the city sell anything in the presence of the men of the city.’

πλήρεις πνεύματος καὶ σοφίας, full of the Spirit and of wisdom. They were to be approved both by God and man. Men could judge of their wisdom, and God had in these days shed forth the Spirit on many.

καταστήσομεν, we will appoint. Some authorities read καταστήσωμεν, and that appears to be represented by constituamus of the Vulgate. While leaving to the assembled brethren the selection of the men, the Apostles keep some control still with themselves. They certainly would judge best concerning the spiritual fitness of the chosen seven.

τῇ προσευχῇ καὶ τῇ διακονίᾳ τοῦ λόγου, to prayer and to the ministry of the word, which explains what is meant by ‘to forsake the word of God’ in Acts 6:2. Here again we have the word διακονία to describe the Apostle’s duty of preaching and teaching. Each office was, if duly performed, a part of the service which was laid upon the whole Church. Cp. Milton, Sonnet XIV., ‘They also serve who only stand and wait.’


Verse 4

4. προσκαρτερήσομεν, we will give ourselves continually. The word is of frequent use to describe the earnest, stedfast character of the early disciples. Thus Acts 1:14 of their continuance in prayer; Acts 2:42 of continuing stedfastly in the Apostles’ doctrine. Cf. also Acts 2:46 and Romans 12:12.


Verse 5

5. καὶ ἤρεσεν κ.τ.λ., and the saying pleased the whole multitude. The construction ἤρεσεν ἐνώπιον is not classical but is common in the LXX. Cf. Deuteronomy 1:23; 2 Samuel 3:36; 1 Kings 3:10. In 1 Maccabees 8:21 we have the very expression καὶ ἤρεσεν ὁ λόγος ἐνώπιον αὐτῶν. There was clearly no thought of neglecting any, and when the oversight was known and a remedy proposed all were rejoiced thereat.

καὶ ἐξελέξαντο κ.τ.λ., and they chose out Stephen, &c. If we may judge of the men’s nationality from the names they bear, every one of the seven was of the Grecians. The names are all Greek, and such a choice marks the desire of all the Church to put an end to every cause of complaint, and as it were to say, We know that as we should not wilfully overlook a Greek who was in need, so no Greek Christian would of purpose neglect a Hebrew widow, and to shew our trust we choose Greeks to have the whole oversight of this duty.

Of the men who were chosen, except Stephen, we hear in future only of Philip (Acts 8:5) as a preacher in Samaria, and he is supposed to be, and probably is, the same person as ‘Philip the evangelist’ mentioned Acts 21:8.

There is a tradition that Nicolas was the originator of that error of the Nicolaitans against which St John speaks in such condemnatory terms in the Apocalypse (Revelation 2:6; Revelation 2:15). Irenæus and Tertullian both make this statement, and if there was a Judas among the Apostles, one of the seven may have been an apostate. But even in the early ages of the Church there was much uncertainty about this matter, and there is no very trustworthy evidence for connecting this Nicolas with the licentious body whom St John condemns.

Νικόλαον προσήλυτον Ἀντιοχέα. Some have thought that, from this description of Nicolas, he was the only proselyte among the seven, but the distinction of such a special addition may have been given to him because he came from Antioch, while the other six were of Jerusalem.


Verse 6

6. ἐνώπιον τῶν ἀποστόλων, before the Apostles. That they might confirm, as they had proposed to do, the selection made by the congregation.

ἐπέθηκαν αὐτοῖς τὰς χεῖρας. The laying on of hands thus became the solemn mode of dedication to the ministry of Christ’s Church.


Verse 7

7. ηὔξανεν, increased, i.e. the word of God was more widely published now that the Apostles were freed from secular cares, and left to give themselves unto the ministry of the word. (Cf. for the expression Acts 12:24, Acts 19:20.)

πολύς τε ὄχλος τῶν ἱερέων, a great company of the priests. To these men the sacrifice would be greater than to the ordinary Israelite, for they would experience the fullest weight of the hatred against the Christians, and would lose their status and support, as well as their friends. This is no doubt the reason why such special mention is made of them.

ὑπήκουον τῇ πίστει, became obedient to the faith. As faith in Christ was the first demand made on those who desired to enter the new communion, it is easy to understand how the Christian religion gained from the first the name of ‘the Faith.’ Cf. Acts 13:8, Acts 14:22, Acts 16:5, Acts 24:24.


Verse 8

8. πλήρης χάριτος, full of grace. The Text. recept. has arisen from a desire to make this verse conform to Acts 6:5.

δυνάμεως, power, i.e. of working miracles, with which he at least among the seven seems to have been endued equally with the Apostles.

On this Chrysostom remarks ὃρα, πῶς καὶ ἐν τοῖς ἑπτὰ ἦν τις πρόκριτος καὶ τὰ πρωτεῖα εἶχεν. εἰ γὰρ καὶ ἡ χειροτονία κοινή, ἀλλ' ὅμως οὗτος ἐπεσπάσατο χάριν πλείονα.


Verses 8-15

8–15. OF STEPHEN’S PREACHING, ARREST AND ACCUSATION


Verse 9

9. ἀνέστησαν δέ, but there arose. There is a danger that then in the A.V. may be taken as a mark of time = τότε (as in Acts 6:11).

τινες τῶνκαὶ τῶν. As an explanation of occurrence of τῶν twice and no more, it has been suggested that only two synagogues are meant, and that one was that of the Libertini, Cyrenians and Alexandrians, the other that of the Jews from Cilicia and Asia. But the necessity for the repetition of the τῶν arises because while the first three names represent cities, Rome, Cyrene, and Alexandria, the others Cilicia and Asia are names of districts, and as ἀπὸ must therefore be put before Κιλικίας the article is needed before the preposition to make a complete construction, τῶν ἀπὸ Κιλικίας standing as if = Κιλίκων.

Render: some of them that were of the synagogue called the synagogue of the Libertines and of the Cyrenians and of the Alexandrians. For the number of synagogues in Jerusalem was very great. The Λιβέρτινοι were most likely the children of some Jews who had been carried captive to Rome by Pompey (B.C. 63), and had been made freedmen (libertini) by their captors, and after their return to Jerusalem had formed one congregation and used one synagogue specially. There is an interesting illustration of this severance of congregations among the Jews from a like cause in the description of the modern Jewish communities in Malabar and Cochin. It is in a MS. in the Cambridge University Library (Oo. 1. 47) which was written in 1781. ‘At this time are found in their dwelling-places about forty white householders, and in all the other places are black Jews found, and their forefathers were the slaves of the white Jews, and now the black Jews, as found in all the places, are about five hundred householders, and they have ten synagogues, while the white Jews have only one. And the white Jews dwell all together and their ritual is distinct from that of the black Jews, and they will not count them [the black Jews] among the ten [necessary for forming a congregation] except a few families of them; but if any of the white Jews go to their [the black Jews’] synagogues, they will admit him as one of the ten.’

On the Jews in Cyrene see note on Acts 2:10.

There were Jews resident in Alexandria in Christ’s time and had been long before, as we learn from the history of the Septuagint version, and in the Talmud we are told they were very numerous. Thus, T. B. Succah 51 b, it is said, ‘Rabbi Jehudah said: He that has not seen the amphitheatre at Alexandria (apparently used for the Jewish worship) in Egypt has not seen the glory of Israel. They say it was like a great Basilica with gallery above gallery. Sometimes there were in it double the number of those who went out from Egypt, and there were in it seventy-one seats of gold corresponding to the seventy-one members of the great Sanhedrin, each one of them worth not less than twenty-one myriads of talents of gold, and there was a platform of wood in the midst thereof, and the minister of the synagogue stood upon it with flags in his hand, and when the time [in the service] came that they should answer Amen, then he waved with the flag and all the people answered Amen.’ In spite of the exaggeration of the numbers in this story we may be certain from it that there was a very large Jewish population in Alexandria, and that they were likely to have a separate synagogue in Jerusalem. For another portion of this story see note on Acts 18:3. See also Joseph. Ant. XIV. 7, § 2 and XIV. 10, § 1.

τῶν ἀπὸ Κιλικίας. Cilicia was at the S.E. corner of Asia Minor. One of its principal towns was Tarsus, the birthplace of St Paul, and there were no doubt many other Jews there, descendants of those Jews whom Antiochus the Great introduced into Asia Minor (Joseph. Ant. XII. 3. 4), two thousand families of whom he placed there as well-disposed guardians of the country. St Paul himself may have been one of these.

Ἀσίας. See note on Acts 2:9.

συνζητοῦντες, disputing. The word is used of the captious questionings of the Pharisees (Mark 8:11) and of the scribes (Mark 9:14) with Jesus and His disciples.


Verse 10

10. ἀντιστῆναι, to resist. The very word used in Christ’s promise (Luke 21:15), οὐ δυνήσονταιἀντιστῆναι ἅπαντες ἀντικείμενοι ὑμῖν.


Verse 11

11. ὑπέβαλον, they suborned. Suborn = to provide, but nearly always used in a bad sense. Subornation of perjury is the legal phrase for procuring a person who will take a false oath.

λέγοντας, which said. The charge here laid against Stephen is afterwards (Acts 6:14) defined. Blasphemous words against Moses and against God was the construction which these witnesses put upon language which had probably been uttered by Stephen in the same way as Christ had said (John 4:21), ‘The time cometh when ye shall neither in this mountain, nor yet at Jerusalem, worship the Father.’ The reflection of Chrysostom is: ὦ ἀναίσχυντοι· πράγματα ποιεῖτε βλάσφημα εἰς τὸν θεόν, καὶ οὐ φροντίζετε. καὶ ΄ωσέως φροντίζειν προσποιεῖσθε; διὰ τοῦτο πρόσκειται ΄ωσῆς ἐπειδὴ τὰ τοῦ θεοῦ οὐ σφόδρα αὐτοῖς ἔμελεν, καὶ ἄνω καὶ κάτω ΄ωσέως μέμνηνται.


Verse 12

12. συνεκίνησάν τε τὸν λαόν, and they stirred up the people, who would be easily roused, if they were told that the glory of the Temple was spoken against. It was an object of much admiration, as we can see from many parts of the Gospels. Cf. Matthew 24:1.

τοὺς πρεσβυτέρους καὶ τοὺς γραμματεῖς. Neither elders nor scribes would need much rousing, their anger was kindled already. Cf. Acts 4:5.

ἐπιστάντες συνήρπασαν, they came upon him and caught him. The words indicate a good deal of violence, and this action is a fit prelude to the still greater outburst when Stephen’s defence was concluded (Acts 7:57).


Verse 13

13. μάρτυρας ψευδεῖς, false witnesses. Their falseness consists in the perverted turn which they gave to the words of Stephen. Though we have no speech of his hitherto recorded, we can see from the character of his defence in the next chapter that he must have been heard to declare that the worship of God was no longer to be restricted as it had been to the Temple at Jerusalem. And just as in the accusation of Christ (Matthew 26:61) the witnesses (called, as here, false, and for a like reason) perverted a saying of Jesus, ‘Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up,’ which St John (John 2:21) explains, into ‘I am able to destroy the temple of God and to build it in three days,’ so the words of Stephen, which spake of a worship now ‘to be bound to no fixed spot, and fettered by no inflexible externality’ (Zeller), were twisted into an utterance against the Temple and the Law, called in Acts 6:11 blasphemy against Moses and against God; and by the use of these two phrases as equivalent the one to the other, they shew us how God and Moses meant for them no more than their Temple and its ritual.

οὐ παύεται λαλῶν ῥήματα, ceaseth not to speak words.


Verse 14

14. ἀκηκόαμεν γάρ, for we have heard. No doubt there was some handle afforded for their statement by St Stephen’s language, just as in the case of Jesus Himself. We may gather what the character of that language must have been from Acts 7:48, ‘the Most High dwelleth not in temples made with hands.’ And to Jewish people at this time to sever worship from Jerusalem was the same thing as to destroy the Temple. The attempt which has been made to shew that the charge against Stephen is merely a reproduction of that made against Jesus is seen to be futile when we observe that in Stephen’s case the witnesses know nothing of ‘the raising up again of the temple,’ and that Stephen himself, by not contradicting but explaining their accusation in his defence, points out that their statement had a widely different origin from that which gave cause to the accusation of Jesus.


Verse 15

15. ἀτενίσαντες, looking stedfastly, which was what they would naturally do when he was about to make his defence.

ὡσεὶ πρόσωπον ἀγγέλου, as it had been the face of an angel. Either because of the dignity which Stephen’s natural look displayed—he was calm and undisturbed, confident in his good cause and supported by the Spirit—or as his gaze soon afterwards (Acts 7:56) beheld the open heavens and the glory of Christ enthroned on nigh, it may be that this verse speaks of what was supernatural, and that the face of Stephen was already illumined with the radiancy of the new Jerusalem. Chrysostom on this heavenly illumination says οὕτως ἔστι καὶ ἐν ἐλάττονι ὄντας βαθμῷ λάμπειν.

We have the same expression used about St Paul in Acta Pauli et Theclæ 2, ἀγγέλου πρόσωπον εἶχεν, and in the preceding line it is also said of him that he was χάριτος πλήρης, as Stephen is described in Acts 6:8 of this chapter.

For a similar phrase see note on Acts 7:20.

 


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Bibliography Information
"Commentary on Acts 6:4". "Cambridge Greek Testament for Schools and Colleges". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/cgt/acts-6.html. 1896.

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