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Bible Commentaries
Acts 6

Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - UnabridgedCommentary Critical Unabridged

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Verse 1

And in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplied, there arose a murmuring of the Grecians against the Hebrews, because their widows were neglected in the daily ministration.

First Election and Ordination of Deacons (6:1-6)

And in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplied, [ pleethunontoon (G4129)] - 'when the disciples were growing numerous.' Since this took place not long before Stephen's death, at which Saul of Tarsus was present (Acts 7:58; Acts 8:1), it could hardly have occurred earlier than two or three years after the great day of Pentecost.

There arose a murmuring of the Grecians, [ Helleenistoon (G1675)] - not Greeks, but Greek-speaking Jews, who for the most part were born in foreign countries;

Against the Hebrews - those Jews, born in Palestine, whose mother-tongue was Hebrew (more strictly Syro-Chaldaic or Aramaic), and who regarded the "Grecians" as an inferior class of Jews;

Because their widows were neglected, [ paretheoorounto (G3865)] - or 'overlooked.' The imperfect tense conveys the idea of 'getting overlooked,' by those whom the apostles employed to distribute the liberality of the Christian community, and who, it would appear, were of the 'Hebrew' class, as being probably the most numerous. The complaint was, in all likelihood, well founded, though we cannot suspect the distributors of intentional partiality. It was really (as Olshausen remarks) lust an emulation of love, each party wishing to have their own door cared for in the best manner.

In the daily ministration - the daily distribution either of alms or of food; probably the latter (see the note at Acts 6:2).

Verse 2

Then the twelve called the multitude of the disciples unto them, and said, It is not reason that we should leave the word of God, and serve tables.

Then the twelve called, [ proskalesamenoi (G4341)] - or 'convened'

The multitude, [ to (G3588) pleethos (G4128)] - the general body of the disciples unto them, and said, It is not reason, [ ouk (G3756) areston (G701) estin (G2076)] - It is not agreeable or 'satisfactory.' A feeling of dislike is implied-`We must not be made to submit longer to this.'

That we should leave the word of God - have our time and attention drawn off from the preaching of the Word. It thus appears that they regarded this as their primary work, and that whatever hindered them, to any extent, from prosecuting this, however important an its own place, was to be shaken off as soon as provision could be made for having it otherwise attended to.

And serve tables, [ diakonein (G1247) trapezais (G5132)] - not 'money-tables,' or 'counters' for distributing alms (for the word "serve," 'minister to,' or 'supply,' is scarcely applicable to that), but 'provision-tables.' So the sense seems to be, 'that we should occupy ourselves in overseeing the distribution of provisions.'

Verse 3

Wherefore, brethren, look ye out among you seven men of honest report, full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business.

Wherefore, brethren, look ye out - ye, the multitude: the election was to be strictly popular.

Among you - of your own number.

Seven man of honest report - literally, 'men testified to;' that is, bearing a good reputation (so Acts 10:22; and more explicitly 1 Timothy 3:7).

Full of the [Holy] Spirit - or 'full of the Spirit,' according to another reading; not full of miraculous gifts (which, for the duties required, would have been no qualification) but men spiritually gifted; although on two of the men chosen on this occasion miraculous power did rest. [We have bracketed the word "Holy," as of doubtful authority. Tischendorf rejects it, but Lachmann does better in simply bracketing it, as the evidence for and against hagiou (G40) - both external and internal-is nearly equal.]

And wisdom - here meaning 'discretion,' aptitude for practical affairs.

Whom we (the apostles) may appoint over this business, [ chreias (G5532)] - or 'duty.' Thus we see that while the election was vested in the Christian people, the appointment lay with the apostles, as spiritual rulers.

Verse 4

But we will give ourselves continually to prayer, and to the ministry of the word.

But we will give ourselves continually - that is, more exclusively than had been possible while they had to attend to the daily distribution of provisions.

To prayer - that is, probably, not private prayer, but the 'public worship' in the assemblies of the Church.

And to the ministry of the word - the other great division of apostolic work. [Observe the contrast between diakonia (G1248) tou (G3588) logou (G3056) and diakonein (G1247) trapezais (G5132).]

Verse 5

And the saying pleased the whole multitude: and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Ghost, and Philip, and Prochorus, and Nicanor, and Timon, and Parmenas, and Nicolas a proselyte of Antioch:

And the saying pleased the whole multitude: and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, and Philip, and Prochorus, and Nicanor, and Timed, and Parmenas, and Nicolas a proselyte of Antioch. Since these names are all Greek, it is not unlikely that the first six were all, of the Grecian class, with whom the "proselyte" Nicolas would be supposed to sympathize. If this was so, it would effectually restore mutual confidence. We cannot, however, be quite certain of it, as the Jews at this time often took Greek names. There is no ground whatever for the tradition that this Nicolas was the founder of the heretical sect of the "Nicolaitanes" (Revelation 2:15).

Verse 6

Whom they set before the apostles: and when they had prayed, they laid their hands on them.

Whom they set before the apostles: and when they (the apostles) had prayed, they laid their hands on them - the one act proclaiming that all official gifts flowed from the Church's glorified Head, the other symbolizing the communication of these to the chosen office-bearers through the recognized channels.

Continued Triumphs of the Gospel-Stephen Distinguishes Himself, Both by His Preaching and His Miracles (6:7-10)

Verse 7

And the word of God increased; and the number of the disciples multiplied in Jerusalem greatly; and a great company of the priests were obedient to the faith.

And the word of God increased; and the number of the disciples multiplied in Jerusalem greatly - prosperity crowning the beautiful spirit which reigned in this mother-community of Christians.

And a great company of the priests were obedient to the faith - a phrase implying that the believing reception of the Gospel is an act of obedience, and if so, surely it is the highest. (See John 6:29: compare Romans 1:5; Romans 16:20; and see the note at Romans 2:8.) This accession of a great multitude of the priests was the crowning triumph of the Gospel, whose peaceful prosperity was now at its greatest height. For, after Stephen's teaching and trial made it clear that the sacerdotal interests could not stand with the Gospel, such priestly accessions became rare indeed.

Verse 8

And Stephen, full of faith and power, did great wonders and miracles among the people.

And Stephen ... The foregoing narrative of the first election and ordination of deacons might probably not have been given at all, but that it seemed necessary to the understanding of what follows regarding the martyr Stephen, that the reader should know what first brought him into public notice.

Full of faith - but the true reading here certainly is, 'full of grace' [ charitos (G5485) - with 'Aleph (') A B D, and more than 20 manuscripts.; the Vulgate, and most ancient versions, and many fathers. It is adopted by Lachmann and Tischendorf, and approved by all critical commentators. The received reading, pisteoos (G4102), has but inferior support, and those manuscripts which have it probably repeated it from Acts 6:5.]

And power - here meaning supernatural power, as is evident from what follows.

Verse 9

Then there arose certain of the synagogue, which is called the synagogue of the Libertines, and Cyrenians, and Alexandrians, and of them of Cilicia and of Asia, disputing with Stephen.

Then there arose certain of the synagogue, which is called the synagogue of the Libertines - Libertini; Jewish 'freedmen.' Pompey, after overrunning Judea, in the year 63 BC, carried an immense number of Jews as prisoners of war to Rome, where they were sold as slaves. They were afterward manumitted, with liberty to adhere to their own religion; but Tiberius, as Tacitus informs us (Annals 2: 85), expelled them or their children, to the number of four thousand, from Italy on account of their religion. Of these many would no doubt settle in Palestine, and reside in Jerusalem.

And Cyrenians - Jews of Cyrene (see the note at Acts 2:10).

And Alexandrians - Jews of Alexandria. The form of the expression [ toon (G3588) ek (G1537) tees (G3588) sunagoogees (G4864) tees (G3588) legomenees (G3004) Libertinoon (G3032), kai (G2532) Kureenaioon (G2956) kai (G2532) Alexandreoon (G221)] would seem to imply that these three classes of foreign Jews had one synagogue; while the next two classes seem distinguished from these [ kai (G2532) toon (G3588) apo (G575) Kilikias (G2791) kai (G2532) Asias (G773)]: nevertheless, as the rabbis say that there were no fewer than 480 synagogues in Jerusalem, and all nationalities had their own, it is possible that the five different classes here named had each their own synagogue-arranged, however, in two groups (as Lechler remarks) - those of Roman and African descent, and those of Asia Minor.

And of them of Cilicia - among whom may have been Saul of Tarsus (Acts 7:58; Acts 21:39).

And of Asia - (see the note at Acts 16:6.) Lachmann excludes this last clause from his text, but the evidence for it is decisive: Tischendorf retains it. These five classes of foreign Jews combined in disputing with Stephen-as the enemy of their common religion.

Verse 10

And they were not able to resist the wisdom and the spirit by which he spake.

And they were not able to resist the wisdom and the spirit by which he spake - what he spake, and the power with which he spake it, being alike resistless.

Foiled in Argument, His Opponents Raise an Insurrection against Stephen, and Have Him Arrested, Brought before the Sanhedrim, and Charged with Hostility to the National Religion-His beautiful Serenity before the Council (6:11-15).

Verse 11

Then they suborned men, which said, We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses, and against God.

Then they suborned, [ hupebalon (G5260)]. This is the proper sense of the word, with reference to witnesses or informers.

Men, which said, We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses - referring, doubtless, to what he had said of the impending disappearance of the whole Mosaic system (see Acts 6:14).

And against God - referring probably to the supreme dignity and authority which he would claim for Christ as the Head of that new economy that was speedily to supersede the old (compare Acts 7:56; Acts 7:59-60).

Verse 12

And they stirred up the people, and the elders, and the scribes, and came upon him, and caught him, and brought him to the council,

And they stirred up the people, and the elders, and the scribes, and came upon him, and caught him, and brought him to the council.

Verse 13

And set up false witnesses, which said, This man ceaseth not to speak blasphemous words against this holy place, and the law:

And set up false witnesses, which said, This man ceaseth not - a testimony to his unflagging zeal and And set up false witnesses, which said, This man ceaseth not - a testimony to his unflagging zeal and activity,

To speak [blasphemous] words against this holy place, and the law. The true reading here seems to be 'to speak words against the holy place and the law [ Blasfeema (G989) and toutou (G5127) being insufficiently attested].

Verse 14

For we have heard him say, that this Jesus of Nazareth shall destroy this place, and shall change the customs which Moses delivered us.

For we have heard him say, that this Jesus of Nazareth shall destroy this place, and shall change the customs which Moses delivered us. It is surely catching at a straw for the Tubingen critics (Baur and Zeller), in their eagerness to disprove the authenticity of this book, to charge its author with falsehood, in calling these men "false witnesses" (Acts 6:13), since Stephen's own speech in the next chapter proves that he must have said the very things which those witnesses testified against him. The falsehood of their charges against Stephen (as of those against our Lord Himself) lay not in the statements they charged Stephen with, but in the turn they gave to them, and especially in the hostility to the religion of their fathers, which they insinuated that he had displayed. What Stephen certainly announced was the approaching change in the divine economy; and as a Jew of foreign extraction (which he appears to have been), he was a peculiarly fitting preacher of this to his foreign brethren of the synagogue above mentioned. But, as the result showed, he was too far in advance of them.

Verse 15

And all that sat in the council, looking stedfastly on him, saw his face as it had been the face of an angel.

And all that sat in the council, looking stedfastly on him, saw his face as it had been the face of an angel

- a play of heavenly radiance attesting to all who beheld his countenance the divine calm of the spirit within-the fruit of the felt presence of his glorified Lord. This shining countenance (says Chrysostom) was the glory of Moses too; and Humphry well observes that, as if in refutation of the charge of hostility to Moses, he receives the same mark of divine favour which had been vouchsafed to Moses (Exodus 34:30) - "And when Aaron and all the children of Israel saw Moses, behold, the skin of his face shone; and they were afraid, to come nigh him."


(1) 'How prominently (we here adopt the excellent remark of Lechler) does the truth here stand before us, that the Word of God, and that only, is the means of salvation in the Church of Christ! The apostles firmly resisted the temptation to lose themselves in a Martha-service - "caring about many things," and to become engrossed therein, with a view to put a stop to the discontent. On the contrary, they make for themselves only freer hands and more ample leisure for the ministry of the Word. This is the apostolic calling. This is their chief business - "the ministry of reconciliation." The apostolic Church approves itself as the Church of the Word; and every Church which will be truly apostolical must also be a Church of the Word. The more the Word of God steps behind the word of man-behind ceremonies, behind human rules and ordinances of the Church, behind affairs of government and mechanical service-the more is it removed from what it should be.'

(2) How easily may misunderstandings arise among the most loving and devoted followers of the Lord Jesus; but yet how quickly and effectually may these be healed where honest intentions, love, and wisdom reign? In the present case the multitude of converts, all pouring in the proceeds of their sold property into a common stock at the apostles' feet, and their raw and but half consolidated state for some time, would seem imperatively to demand the personal superintendence of the apostles at the daily distribution of what the necessitous required. But as this could hardly have gone beyond a general oversight, and the work would no doubt be gotten through as speedily as possible, it is easy to see how, with the best intentions, irregularities might occur, and apparent partialities be shown. Nor is there any good reason to doubt that a preference for the native poor-representing the majority of the needy-over those of foreign extraction may have been half-unconsciously shown. But what a beautiful model for imitation in all similar cases does the choice of this assembly furnish! Though we have reason to think that the majority of them belonged to the class complained of, they choose (as would seem) the whole of the new distributors from among the complaining minority. By this, whether the complaint was well or ill-founded, they effectually put an end to it, and restored confidence and harmony to the whole body.

(3) How superior to the lust of power do the apostles here show themselves to be, in not only divesting themselves of the immediate superintendence of temporal affairs in the Christian community (though the responsibility for its general well-being they could not shake off), but giving the choice of those who were to be entrusted with this temporal oversight to the disciples at large!

(4) How little of formal organization did the apostles give to the Church at first, and when an emergency arose which demanded something more, how entirely was the remedy suggested by the reason of the thing! Had the life and prosperity of the Church depended upon hierarchical orders, ritual observances, and mechanical arrangements, how differently would the apostles have acted! But if it depended as we have seen that it did (Remark 1), on the Word-preached and received in the power of the Spirit-then did the apostles act, in relation to all external matters, just as might have been expected-providing for them as the occasion demanded, and only as the necessities of each case required.

(5) Though the new office-bearers are not expressly called Deacons here, it is universally admitted that this was the first institution of that order in the Church; the success of the expedient securing its permanency, and the qualifications for "the office of a deacon" being laid down in one of the apostolic letters immediately after that of "a bishop" (1 Timothy 3:8-13). For a considerable time they appear to have been known only as "the seven," from their original number (Acts 21:8); and it must have been only as the need of such church officers came to be felt elsewhere, and the number seven was not adhered to, that the name "deacon" became their fixed official designation, either given or acquiesced in by the apostles.

(6) Though the equitable distribution of the means of temporal support to the needy was the sole object of the first institution of deacons in the Church, the standard of qualification laid down for this office is notably high. First, they were to be of "honest report" - of good reputation. It was not enough that they should be good; they must have a character for goodness among their fellows. Without this the whole influence, even of real excellence, upon others is neutralized. And if this be true of private, it is more so of official life. In the present-case, the confidence entertained by the needy themselves in those set apart to supply their wants was plainly the principal secret of their satisfaction with the change, and the general harmony that resulted. And if a good reputation is requisite in an office so humble as that of a deacon of the Church, much more surely in "pastors and teachers." But next, they were required to be "full of the Holy Spirit," which can mean nothing less than eminent for spiritual gifts-such as faith, love, zeal, humility. Nor is the need for such qualities in those who go in and out before the people as bearers of office, however humble, a whit less now than it was then.

Lastly, they were to be men of "wisdom," without which neither a name for worth, nor the highest spirituality, are sufficient qualifications for ecclesiastical office. In the distribution of alms in any form, sound judgment is indispensable; and the apostles showed their own judgment in demanding this of those who were to relieve them of the burden they had until then to bear. But the higher the official position which anyone occupies in the Church, so much the more important is this qualification of "wisdom." For want of it, how much energy and zeal are misdirected, and what a fruitless expenditure of heavy labour and precious resources is seen from time to time in the Church of Christ!

(7) The whole conduct of Stephen's opponents-in first trying to silence him by argument, and when this failed, raising against him a storm of popular indignation, suborning men to swear against him false charges of hostility to the faith divinely committed to their fathers-is so entirely in keeping with the procedure of the same class toward our Lord before, and toward His apostles and others afterward, and with the spirit which the nation has evinced toward Christ ever since, that this most life-like part of the narrative will at once be seen to attest its own historical accuracy. But the sequel of this history will furnish even more striking illustrations of this remark.

(8) How easily can unscrupulous malignity pervert the truth, even when professing, with the utmost plausibility, only to express it! Just as the charge brought against our Lord, at His trial before the Sanhedrim, regarding the destruction of the temple, would, to a superficial hearer, have a considerable appearance of truth, and yet was so false that even the high priest would not condemn Him upon it; so the charge against Stephen, of hostility to Moses and the religion of his fathers, while it had apparent ground in the principal scope of his preaching, was thoroughly false, and by himself afterward proved to be so. Calvin, in a fine comment upon Acts 6:14 of this chapter, warns those who were associated with him in the work of Reformation not to think it unreasonable that those wounds which Satan was permitted to inflict even upon the, Son of God should reach to them also. 'When,' says he, 'we teach that men are so depraved as to be the captives of sin and evil lusts, straightway our enemies raise the calumny that we deny men to be voluntary sinners, and hold them to be so impelled to evil as to be free of blame, and extinguish in ourselves all motive to well-doing. Because we deny to the good works of the saints all strictly meritorious worth, inasmuch as they have always some defect in them, we are charged with destroying the distinction between good and bad works. Because we say that the righteousness of man is rounded on the grace of God alone, and that the souls of the godly can rest only on the death of Christ, they charge us with giving loose reins to the flesh, and making the law of no more use. Hard indeed it is (he adds) to lie under such charges; but we must not be scared away by them from the defense of the good cause. For precious to God is His own truth; and it should be to us, although to them that perish it be the savour of death unto death (2 Corinthians 2:16).'

Bibliographical Information
Jamieson, Robert, D.D.; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. "Commentary on Acts 6". "Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/jfu/acts-6.html. 1871-8.
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