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Bible Commentaries

Greek Testament Critical Exegetical Commentary

Acts 6

Verse 1

1. ] δέ , in contrast to the former entire unity of the church: introducing that great and important chapter in her history of Judaizing divisions , which from this time onward disquieted her.

ἐν τ . ἡμ . τ . ] See ch. Acts 1:15 : but not necessarily as there, ‘within a very few days:’ the expression is quite indefinite. Some time must have elapsed since ch. Acts 4:32 .

Ἑλληνιστῶν Ἑβραίους ] The Hellenists (from ἑλληνίζειν ) were the Grecian Jews : not only those who were themselves proselytes, nor only those who came of families once proselytized, but all who, on account of origin or habitation, spoke Greek as their ordinary language, and used ordinarily the LXX version.

The Hebrews were the pure Jews , not necessarily resident in Palestine (e.g. Paul, who was Ἑβραῖος ἐξ Ἑβραίων , Philippians 3:5 . See also 2Co 11:22 ), nor necessarily of unmixed Jewish descent , else the ἐξ Ἑβρ . would hardly have been an additional distinction, but rather distinguished by language , as speaking the Syro-Chaldaic and using the Hebrew Scriptures.

παρεθεωροῦντο ] The use of this appropriate word shews, I think, that Olsh.’s supposition, that χῆραι implies all their poor , is not correct. Those poor who could attend for themselves and represent their case were served: but the widows , who required more searching out at their own houses, were overlooked. And this because the Apostles, who certainly before this had the charge of the duty of distribution, being already too much occupied in the ministry of the Word to attend personally to it, had entrusted it apparently to some deputies among the Hebrews , who had committed this oversight. For the low estimation in which the Hellenistic Jews were held by the Hebrews , see Biscoe, History of the Acts, pp. 60, 61.

ἐν τῇ διακ. τ. καθ. ] Some have argued from this that there must have been ‘deacons’ before: and that those now elected (see below on their names) were only for the service of the Hellenistic Jews. But I should rather believe, with De Wette and Röthe, that the Apostles had as yet, by themselves or by non-official deputies, performed the duty. The διακονία was the daily distribution of food: see on Acts 6:2 .

Verses 1-7


Verse 2

2. ] τὸ πλῆθος τ . μ . , ‘the whole number of disciples in Jerusalem:’ summoning a general meeting of the church. How many they were in number at the time, is not said. Clearly the 120 names of ch. Acts 1:15 , cannot (Lightf.) be meant.

οὐκ ἀρεστόν ἐστιν ] ‘non placet:’ it is not our pleasure: not ‘non æquum est,’ as Beza, Calv., Kuin., and others (and E. V.), defending this rendering by ἀρεστόν being used in the LXX for the Heb. טוֹב : but even there it never signifies good or right absolutely, but is used subjectively, with בְּעֵינָיִךְ , ‘in thine eyes:’ see Genesis 16:6 , ὡς ἄν σοι ἀρεστὸν ᾖ : also Deuteronomy 12:28 , τὸ ἀρεστὸνἐναντίον κυρίου τ . θεοῦ σου .

καταλείψαντας ] For to this it would come, if the Apostles were to enquire into, and do justice in, every case of asserted neglect.

διακονεῖν τραπέζαις ] It is a question whether this expression import the service of distributing money (see reff. and Luk 19:23 al.) or that of apportioning the daily public meals. The latter seems to me most probable, both on account of the καθημερινή above, and of the usage of διακονεῖν (see reff.). That both kinds of tables may be meant, is possible: but hardly probable.

Verse 3

3. ἐπισκ . οὖν ] The similarity to ref. Gen. seems to shew that the look ye out of the E. V. is the right rendering.

μαρτυρουμένους ] For this use of the pass. not found in the Gospp., compare besides reff., Jos. Antt. iii. 2. 5, τὸν στρατηγὸν Ἰησοῦν ἐνεγκωμίαζε , μαρτυρούμενον ἐφ ʼ οἶς ἔπραξεν ὑπὸ παντὸς τοῦ στρατοῦ and Marc [42] Antonin. vii. 62, συνεχῶς ἐφιστάναι , τίνες εἰσὶν οὗτοι , ὑφ ʼ ὧν μαρτυρεῖσθαι θέλεις .

[42] Marcus Monachus, 390

ἑπτά ] Some have supposed a reference to the number of nations of which the Hellenistic Jews would perhaps be composed: some, to 7000, to which number the believers would by this time amount (Bengel): some, to the mystic number seven, so common in Jewish writings (Meyer, De Wette): but the best remark is Lightfoot’s: ‘quare septem eligendi, dicat cui est audacia.’

Some present consideration of convenience probably regulated the number.

ἐπὶ τ . χρείας τ . ] ‘super hoc opus,’ Vulg.: ‘ad hunc usum, Grot.: ‘over this requirement (desideratum),’ Meyer: but the occurrence of the very same expression 1Ma 10:37 , ἐκ τούτων κατασταθήσεται ἐπὶ χρειῶν τῆς βασιλείας τῶν οὐσῶν εἰς πἰστιν , seems to make the sense business (as E. V.), duty , more probable. The duty (see above) was, not that of ministering to the Hellenistic Jews only, but that of superintending the whole distribution.

Verse 4

4. ] τ . διακονίᾳ τ . λόγου , in opposition to the διακονία τραπεζῶν . ‘Hæ partes sunt nobilissimæ, quas nemo episcopus alteri, quasi ipse majoribus rebus intentus, delegare potest.’ Bengel. ‘Hinc apparet non frustra precandi studium commendari verbi ministris.’ Calvin.

Verse 5

5. ] πίστεως , not in the lower sense (Kuin.) of ‘truthfulness,’ but in the higher of faith , the root of all Christian virtues: see ch. Acts 11:24 (De W.).

Of these seven, Stephen and Philip (ch. Acts 8:5 ; Acts 8:26 ; Acts 8:40 ; Act 21:8 ) only are elsewhere mentioned. On the idea of Nicolas having founded the heretical sect of the Nicolaitanes, Revelation 2:6 ; Revelation 2:15 (Lightf. and Grot. from Iren [43] adv. Hær. i. 26, p. 105, and Epiph [44] Hær. 25, p. 76), see note ad loc. From his being called προσήλυτον Ἀντιοχέα , some have argued (Heins.) that he only was a proselyte, and none of the rest: some (Salmasius), that all were proselytes, but the rest, of Jerusalem. But neither inference seems justified: rather I should say that the addition simply imports that he became better known than the rest, from the very circumstance perhaps of Antioch having been afterwards so important a spot in the Christian history (ch. Acts 11:19 , note). These names are all Greek : but we cannot thence infer that the seven were all Hellenists: the Apostles Philip and Andrew bore Greek names, but were certainly not Hellenists. There does appear however, in the case of these two Apostles, to have been a connexion with Greeks of some sort, see John 12:20-22 . Possibly, though Ἑβραῖοι , they may not have been ἑξ Ἑβραίων (see above on Act 6:1 ), but sprung from inter-marriage with Hellenists. And so these seven may have been partly Ἑβραῖοι , though their names seem to indicate, and their office would appear to require, that they were connected with Hellenists, and not likely to overlook or disparage them. The title of ‘ deacons ’ is no where applied to these seven in Scripture, nor does the word occur in the Acts at all. In 1 Timothy 3:8 ff. there is no absolute identification of the duties of deacons with those allotted to the seven, but at the same time nothing to imply that they were different. And ἀνέγκλητοι , ib. 1 Timothy 6:10 , at all events is parallel with our μαρτυρουμένους , Acts 6:3 . The universal consent of all Christian writers in regarding this as the institution of the office of deacons should not be overlooked: but at the same time we must be careful not to imagine that we have here the institution of the ecclesiastical order so named. The distinctness of the two is stated by Chrysostom, Hom. xiv. p. 115, ὁποῖον δὲ ἆρα ἀξίωμα εἶχον οὗτοι , καὶ ποίαν ἐδέξαντο χειροτονίαν , ἀναγκαῖον μαθεῖν . ἆρα τὴν τῶν διακόνων ; καὶ μὴν τοῦτο ἐν ταῖς ἐκκλησίαις οὐκ ἔστιν · ἀλλὰ τῶν πρεσβυτέρων ἐστὶνοἰκονομία . ὅθεν οὔτε διακόνων , οὔτε πρεσβυτέρων οἶμαι τὸ ὄνομα εἶναι δῆλον καὶ φανερόν . ἀλλὰ τέως εἰς τοῦτο ἐχειροτονήθησαν . So also Œcumenius in loc.: τοὺς ἐκλεγέντας εἰς διακόνους ἐχειροτόνησαν , οὐ κατὰ τὸν νῦν ἐν ταῖς ἐκκλησίαις βαθμόν , ἀλλὰ τοῦ διανέμειν μετὰ ἀκριβείας καὶ ὀρφανοῖς καὶ χήραις τὰ πρὸς διατροφήν . See Suicer sub voce.

[43] Irenæus, Bp. of Lyons, 178 (Iren-int as represented by his interpreter; Iren-gr, when his own words are preserved)

[44] Epiphanius, Bp. of Salamis in Cyprus, 368 403

But that the subsequent office of deacon was founded upon this appointment is very probable. The only one of these seven who appears in the subsequent history (ch. Act 21:8 ), is called Φίλιπποςεὐαγγελιστής , probably from the success granted him as recorded in ch. Acts 8:12 . In these early days titles sprung out of realities, and were not yet mere hierarchical classifications.

Verse 6

6. ] ἐπέθηκαν , viz. the Apostles. Their office of giving themselves to prayer is here specially exercised.

The laying on of hands , the earliest mention of which is connected with blessing only ( Gen 48:14 ), was prescribed to Moses as the form of conferring office on Joshua, Numbers 27:18 , and from that time was used on such occasions by the Jews. From its adoption by the Apostles, it has ever been the practice of the Christian church in ordaining , or setting apart her ministers. It was also used by the Apostles on those who, having been baptized, were to be fully endowed with the gifts of the Holy Spirit: see ch. Acts 8:17 ; Acts 19:6 , and Hebrews 6:2 .

Verse 7

7. ] καί (not ‘therefore,’ as Kuin.), and , i.e., on this measure being completed; as would be the case, seeing that these seven were not only servants of tables, but men full of the Holy Ghost and of wisdom: and we soon hear of the part which Stephen bore in the work.

πολὺς ὄχλ . τ . ἱερέων ] The number of priests who returned from Babylon, Ezra 2:36-39 , was 4289: and the number would probably have much increased since then. No evasion of the historian’s assertion is to be attempted. Casaubon, approved by Beza and Valcknaer, would read, πολύς τε ὄχλος , καὶ τῶν ἱερέων (sc. τινὲς ) ὑπ .; and Heinsius, Wolf, Kuinoel, and Eisner attempt a distinction between ὄχλος τῶν ἱερ ., ‘sacerdotes ex plebe,’ and the ‘sacerdotes docti.’ But, besides that the words will not bear this meaning, the distinction is one wholly unknown in the N. T.

At this time was probably the culminating point of popularity of the church at Jerusalem . As yet, all seemed going on prosperously for the conversion of Israel. The multitude honoured the Apostles: the advice of Gamaliel had moderated the opposition of the Sanhedrim: the priests were gradually being won over. But God’s designs were far different. At this period another great element in the testimony of the church is brought out, in the person of Stephen, its protest against Pharisaism . This arrays against it that powerful and zealous sect, and henceforward it finds neither favour nor tolerance with either of the parties among the Jews, but increasing and bitter enmity from them both.


Verse 8

8 .] This is the first instance of any, not an Apostle , working signs and wonders. The power was perhaps conferred by the laying on of the Apostles’ hands; though, that having been for a special purpose merely, and the working miracles being a fulfilment of the promise, Mark 16:17-18 , to all believers , I should rather refer the power to the eminence of Stephen’s faith .

χάριτος , divine grace (not ‘favour with the people’): the effects of which, the miracles, were called χαρίσματα .

Verse 9

9. ] Λιβερτίνων is rightly explained by Chrysostom: οἱ Ῥωμαίων ἀπελεύθεροι . Philo, Legat. ad Caium, § 23, vol. ii. p. 568, speaks of τὴν πέραν τοῦ Τιβέρεως ποταμοῦ μεγάλην τῆς Ῥώμης ἀποτομὴνκατεχομένην κα οἰκουμένην πρὸς Ἰουδαίων , and adds, Ῥωμαῖοι δὲ ἦσαν οἱ πλείους ἀπελευθερωθέντες · αἰχμάλωτοι γὰρ ἀχθέντες εἰς Ἰταλίαν , ὑπὸ τῶν κτησαμένων ἠλευθερώθησαν , οὐδὲν τῶν πατρίων παραχαράξαι βιασθέντες (p. 1014, Potter). Tacitus, Ann. ii. 85 (A.D. 19), relates, ‘Actum et de sacris Ægyptiis Judaicisque pellendis: factumque Patrum consultum, ut quatuor millia libertini generis, ea superstitione infecta, queis idonea ætas, in insulam Sardiniam veherentur … cæteri cederent Italia, nisi certam ante diem profanos ritus exuissent.’ In this Josephus agrees, Antt. xviii. 3. 5, relating a story as one of its causes, in which Ida, a freedwoman, was the agent of the mischief. Here then we have abundant reason for numbers of these Jews ‘libertini generis’ having come to Jerusalem, being among the cœteri who were ordered to quit Italy: and what place so likely a refuge for Jews as Jerusalem?

Those who find a difficulty in this interpretation suppose them to have been inhabitants of Libertum, a town in Africa propria, or proconsularis, from which we find an episcopus Libertinensis sitting in the synod of Carthage in 411 (so Suidas, Λιβερτῖνοι , ὄνομα ἔθνους , Schleusn., al.); or conjecture Λιβυστίνων to have been the true reading (so the Arm. version, Libyorum , Œcum., Lyra, Beza, Le Clerc, al.), or even Λιβύων τῶν κατὰ Κυρήνην (Schulthess); or suppose them (Lightf.) to have been freedmen from Jewish servitude, or Italian freedmen, who had become proselytes. (The Arabic version given in the Paris polyglott curiously renders it Corinthiorum .) But none of these suppositions will bear examination, and the best interpretation is the usual one that they were the descendants of Jewish freedmen at Rome, who had been expelled by Tiberius. There is no difficulty in their having had a synagogue of their own: for there were 460 or 480 synagogues at Jerusalem (Vitringa, Synag. p. 256. Lightf., Meyer).

Κυρηναίων ] See ch. Acts 2:10 , note.

Ἀλεξανδρέων ] Two of the five regions of Alexandria were inhabited by Jews (see Jos. Antt. xiv. 7. 2, 10. 1; xix. 5. 2 al.). It was also the seat of the learning and philosophy of the Grecian Jews, which was now at its height. This metropolis of the Hellenists would certainly have a synagogue in Jerusalem. I understand three distinct synagogues to be meant, notwithstanding the somewhat equivocal construction, and λεγομένης only to apply to the unusual term Λιβερτίνων .

τῶν ἀπὸ Κ .] It seems doubtful whether this genitive also depends on συναγωγῆς . At first sight it would seem not, from the repetition of τῶν , answering to the τῶν before. But then we must remember, that as Κυρηναίων and Ἀλεξανδρέων both belong to towns , and towns well known as the residences of Jews, a change of designation would be necessary when the Jews of whole provinces came to be mentioned, and the synagogue would not be called that of the Κίλικες or Ἀσιανοί (ch. Act 20:4 ), but that of οἱ ἀπὸ Κ . κ . . : and, this being the case, the article could not but be repeated, without any reference to the τῶν before.

Cilicia was at this time a Roman province, the capital being the free city of Tarsus, see note on ch. Acts 9:11 .

Asia , not exactly as in ch. Acts 2:9 , where it is distinguished from Phrygia, here and usually in the Acts implies Asia proconsularis, a large and important Roman province, including Mysia, Lydia, Caria, and Phrygia known also as Asia cis Taurum.

Verse 11

11 .] Neander well remarks (Pfl. u. Leit., p. 81 ff.) that this false charge, coupled with the character of Stephen’s apologetic speech, shews the real character of his arguments with his opponents : that he seems to have been the first who plainly set forth the transitory nature of the law and temple, as compared with the permanence of the latter and better covenant, thus being in a remarkable manner the forerunner of St. Paul.

Verse 12

12. ] τὸν λαόν , first , that by means of the popular feeling they might act upon the πρεσβ . κ . γρ . , the members of the Sanhedrim.

ἐπιστάντες ] The same persons, acting now by the authority of the Sanhedrim; Saul, among οἱ ἀπὸ Κιλικίας , being, as is afterwards (ch. Act 7:58 ) implied, among the foremost, came upon him (see reff.), and seized him .

Verse 13

13. ψευδεῖς ] The falsehood of their witness consisted, as in the similar case of our Lord, in taking Stephen’s words out of their context, and misrepresenting what perhaps, totidem verbis, he had actually said .

τοῦ τόπ . τ . ἁγ . ] The temple , see reff.

Verse 14

14. ] We may either take the words thus, ὅτι ἸησοῦςΝαζωραῖος , οὗτος κατ ., “ that Jesus of N., he it is who shall destroy ’ … (see ch. Acts 7:35 ; 1Co 6:4 ), or ὅτι Ἰησοῦς , ὁ Ναζωραῖος οὗτος , κατ ., ‘ that Jesus, this Nazarene, shall destroy …,’ or, which seems by far the best, take the whole together, that this Jesus of N. shall destroy , as in E. V. Compare ὁ Παῦλος οὗτος , ch. Acts 19:26 .

Verse 15

15 .] It is a question with regard to this verse, Does it relate any supernatural appearance, glorifying the face of Stephen , or merely describe the calm and holy aspect with which he stood before the council? The majority of Commentators suppose the latter: and certainly the foregoing description of Stephen would lead us to infer, that there was something remarkably striking in his appearance and demeanour, which overawed his adversaries. But both from the plain language of our text, well understood among the Jews to signify supernatural brightness (see examples in Wetstein), and from the fact that in Luke’s own narrative we have supernatural brightness associated with angelic appearances more than once (see Luke 2:9 ; ch. Act 12:7 ), I should be inclined to think that the face of the martyr was lighted up with a divine radiance . That the effect on those present was not such as to prevent the examination proceeding, is no argument against this view: in the very mildness of the question of the H. P. which follows, I see the trace of some unusual incident exercising an influence over him. Chrysostom (who does not, however, seem to adopt the above interpretation, his τοῦτο καὶδόξα Μωυσέω being apparently only rhetorical) explains well the effect on the council: ἐπίχαριν δὲ αὐτὸν δοκεῖ μοι ποιῆσαι τὸν θεόν , τάχα ἐπεὶ ἔμελλε τινὰ ἐρεῖν , καὶ ἵνα εὐθέως τῇ προσόψει καταπλήξαὐτούς . ἔστι γάρ , ἔστι καὶ πρόσωπα χάριτος γέμοντα πνευματικῆς ἐπέραστα τοῖς ποθοῦσιν εἶναι , καὶ αἰδέσιμα τοῖς μισοῦσι καὶ φοβερά . ἢ καὶ ὡς αἰτίαν τοῦτο εἶπεν , δι ʼ ἥν ἠνέσχοντο τῆς δημηγορίας αὐτοῦ . τί δαὶἀρχιερεύς ; … ὁρᾷς πῶς μετὰ ἐπιεικείαςἐρώτησις καὶ οὐδὲν τέως φορτικὸν ἔχουσα ; In Act. Homil. xv. p. 120.

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Bibliographical Information
Alford, Henry. "Commentary on Acts 6". Greek Testament Critical Exegetical Commentary. 1863-1878.