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Bible Commentaries

John Dummelow's Commentary on the Bible
Acts 6



Verses 1-15

Stephen and the Seven

1-7. The Hebrew-speaking Jews, who were in a majority in the Church of Jerusalem, were inclined to despise and neglect the minority who spoke Greek. In particular, the Greek-speaking widows received less food than their Hebrew-speaking sisters. This led to complaints, and the impartiality of the Apostles was called in question. The Apostles, finding the distribution of charity too great a burden for them, summoned a meeting of the Church, and called upon the brethren to elect seven men to undertake this business. The office to which they were appointed was in later times called the diaconate (Philippians 1:1; 1 Timothy 3:8, 1 Timothy 3:12). but the name had not yet come into use, and St. Luke consequently avoids it.

1. Grecians] i.e. Hellenists, or Greek-speaking Jews. Hebrews] i.e. Hebrew-speaking Jews. Hebrew was spoken mainly in Jerusalem and Judæa. Ministration] i.e. distribution of food (Acts 6:2).

2. It is not reason] rather, 'It does not please us.' Serve tables] i.e. attend to the distribution of food. Others think that the tables of bankers are meant, and that the Apostles complain that they cannot keep the accounts, or manage the finances of so large a community.

3. Full of the Holy Ghost] Al1 Church work requires to be performed in the power of the Spirit, and not least the management of charity and finance.

Wisdom] i.e. the practical discernment and tact so necessary in the distribution of charity.

5. The names are all Greek, which suggests that some at least of them were Greek-speaking Jews. That all were Hellenists is not probable. Greek names were quite common even among the Hebrews (cp. Nicodemus, Philip, and Andrew). One, Nicolas, was a proselyte, i.e. doubtless a full circumcised proselyte. Of two only, Stephen and Philip, have we any further account. The appointment of the Seven marks the first stage in the growth of liberal ideas within the Church.

The differences between the Hellenistic (Grecian) Jews and the Hebrews are noteworthy. The Hellenists used the Gk. OT. (Septuagint); were educated more or less in the Greek manner; studied (though to a Hmited extent) Greek literature and philosophy, and adopted a more liberal attitude towards the Gentile world than the Hebrews. The typical representative of Hellenism is Philo, who makes Moses and the prophets speak the language of philosophy. Josephus also (in spite of his knowledge of Hebrew) has pronounced Hellenistic tendencies.

6. The essential element in ordination is prayer, and the laying on of hands by the chief ministers of the Church. The laying on of hands in making appointments is ancient. Thus 'Joshua was full of the spirit of wisdom because Moses had laid his hands upon him' (Numbers 27:18-23; Deuteronomy 34:9).

8-15. The preaching, miracles, and arrest of Stephen.

The reason why the preaching of Stephen gave so much greater offence than that of the Twelve probably was that he saw that the coming of Christ virtually abrogated the Ceremonial Law, and that its abandonment was only a question of time. He thus anticipated St. Paul, perhaps even went beyond him at least in theory (see on Acts 6:14). But as his speech gives no clear indications of such views, not even in Acts 7:48 some suppose that he attacked the authority, not of the Law of Moses itself, but only of those traditional additions to it which the scribes held to be of equal or greater authority. Stephen was probably a Hellenist, and his opponents in the synagogues (Acts 6:9) were also Hellenists.

8. Of faith] RV 'of grace.'

9. There are said to have been no less than 480 synagogues in Jerusalem, and the Cyrenians and Alexandrians, at any rate, would have been sufficiently numerous to have synagogues of their own. Libertines] lit. 'freed-men.' These were descendants of those Jews who, having been carried by the Romans, particularly by Pompey, to Rome as prisoners of war, had afterwards been emancipated from slavery. Cyrenians] A fourth part of the inhabitants of Cyrene, the capital of Upper Libya, consisted of Jews. Alexandrians] At Alexandria (founded by Alexander the Great, 332 b.c.) two of the five parts into which the city was divided were inhabited by Jews, who were ruled over by a Jewish officer called an alabarch. At Alexandria the OT. had been translated into Greek. Here flourished a Jewish-Greek philosophy of which Philo is the chief exponent. Apollos was an Alexandrian (Acts 18:24). Tradition makes St. Mark the first bishop of Alexandria. Cilicia] To this synagogue St. Paul probably belonged. Asia] The Roman province, not the continent. It embraced Lydia, Mysia, Caria, part of Phrygia. Its three chief towns were Ephesus, Smyrna, and Pergamos.

11. Suborned men] The success of these tactics against Jesus encouraged them to repeat them.

13. This holy place] i.e. the Temple.

14. Destroy this place, etc.] What St. Stephen had probably said was that the Law would pass away as having been fulfilled in Christ, and that if the Jews persistently refused to acknowledge Jesus as the Messiah, their city and Temple would be destroyed, as Jesus had prophesied (Matthew 24, etc.). Although the charge was malicious and false, there was some truth in it. Stephen's teaching was clearly more advanced and liberal than that of the Twelve.

15. The face of an angel] This description is probably due to St. Paul, who was doubtless present: cp. Acts 7:58.


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Bibliography Information
Dummelow, John. "Commentary on Acts 6:4". "John Dummelow's Commentary on the Bible". 1909.

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