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Bible Commentaries
Acts 6

Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New TestamentsSutcliffe's Commentary

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Verses 1-15

Acts 6:1 . A murmuring of the Grecians against the Hebrews. The original word here rendered Grecians is Hellenists; from Hellen, son of Deucalion, king of Thessalia, who was drowned during the inundation which laid all Thessalia under water, two hundred and forty eight years after the deluge of Ogyges. Erasmus says that the ancient jews called all uncircumcised nations by this name; and so indeed it would seem, for Mark calls the woman of Tyre and Sidon a Hellenist: chap. Acts 7:26. But after the jews were dispersed among the gentiles, the term became gradually applied to all the jews born among the gentiles, and who for the most part spake the greek tongue. Annota. Antwerp edit. 1538. These Hellenists were assuredly circumcised, and they are obviously distinguished from proselytes in chap. Acts 2:11. Abraham is called a Hebrew, says rabbin Nehemiah, in Lightfoot, because he descended from Heber. Other rabbins say, he derived this name because he used the language of those beyond the Euphrates. Hence we may infer, that they are called Hellenists on account of their extraneous birth and language. The widows therefore of persons born in Jerusalem, being better known, received a better attention than the widows of strangers. It was a fault, but undesigned.

Because their widows were neglected in the daily ministration. Hunger cries in the ears of heaven. The price of corn in England during the war was almost double its price abroad. Now the depression crushes the farmer, and the farmer crushes the poor. Parochial associations are therefore forming to build large boarding-houses for the poor, and cut them off from the tenderest ties of nature, where their groans cannot be heard, nor their tears seen. In France, the poor are really poor; but they get a loaf on Monday, and another on Thursday. Men of property have a list of widows, and of the poor who are blind and lame, to whom they extend weekly alms. I am horrified at the new name of those boarding prisons.

Acts 6:3 . Look ye out among you seven men of honest report. The office of deacon is the same in the christian church as in the jewish synagogues, from whence it was derived. See the note on Matthew 4:23. It was an office filled both by ministers and members of the church, and not unfrequently by women. Phebe was a deaconess of the church of Cenchrea. Romans 16:1. And I know not why the Vulgate and other versions should render the original “minister, or servant.” The Greek church was obliged to ordain pious matrons to that office for the sake of gaining access to their own sex. As to the injunction, to look out suitable persons for the office, I see no impropriety in this, for the distribution of their alms; nor do I see any connection between this, and the call of ministers to the sacred office, which must ever originate with the Spirit of God. The exterior effects will then guide the ministers and the people in calling them to the work. But the adjection, whom we may appoint over this business, à qui commettions ce ministere, imports the apostolic sanction and charge of impartiality. The like officers were in the synagogues. It is probable that the city was divided into seven districts, for the temporal and spiritual superintendence of the poor, and for the worship of God.

Acts 6:5 . They chose Stephen, full of faith and of the Holy Ghost. Stephen was also a minister of the word. All the seven deacons are called by their greek names, though six of them were jews by birth; but their parents might have lived among the greeks. Their names are also names of dignity or respect. Stephen, a crown. Philip, a lover of horses. Nicholas, a ruler of the people. This last, a gentile by birth and education, stands charged by John, in Revelation 2:6, and by some of the fathers, with defending the gentile practice of polygamy, though he himself lived in chastity. Prochorus and Nicanor are said to have been martyred in Cyprus.

Acts 6:6 . Whom they set before the apostles; and when they had prayed, they laid their hands on them. This was no doubt accompanied with proper charges of fidelity towards God and the church.

The name given to these officers is greek: διακονος , deacon: διακονη , deaconess: διακονειν , to minister, to serve at the table, as is explained in Acts 6:2. It is not reasonable that we should leave the word of God and “ serve tables.” In this view, when our Saviour blessed and brake the bread, he humbly served as the archdeacon of the church, and gave us an example of humility. In Greek authors, the term is applied to waiters at a feast. The deaconesses of the primitive church, besides performing other services, carried the sacred elements from the Lord’s table (the bread, as our Saxon fathers used to say, having first been “hallowed to husel”) to their sick and absent sisters in the city.

Acts 6:9 . Then arose certain of the synagogue the synagogue of the libertines, whose fathers had been liberated from servitude: a low degenerate race.

Acts 6:10 . They were not able to resist the wisdom and the spirit by which he spake. So the proverb was realized: he that is worsted in logic grows angry: but the anger here was madness.

Acts 6:11 . They suborned men which said, we have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses. Jezebel, when mortified at the firmness of Naboth, did the same; not considering that her life would soon pay for that of the subject. So it proved to those rulers in the tragic fall of Jerusalem. The blood of saints “shall not be purged with sacrifice.”

Acts 6:15 . The council saw his face as it had been the face of an angel. God inspired him with inward glory and holiness, which emanated in his aspect to convince all of his purity; for he had no one to confront the perjured race, and prove the innocence and sanctity of his life.


We here see the dignity and glory of the sacred office. The apostles would not leave the ministry, nor interrupt its exercise to serve the tables of the church; others could do that perhaps as well as they, but others could not fill the sanctuary. What a pity then that so many valuable ministers should in our age be compelled to teach schools, and follow trades, because the oblations of the church are too small for their maintenance. But if ministers do this to realize fortunes, the principle, in my judgment, is a forfeiture of the ministry: we cannot serve God and mammon.

When grievances arise in the church, and partiality is itself a real grievance, it is the duty of the elders to meet, and by united and sober counsel redress them on the first complaints. That wound heals best which is speedily dressed: it grows angry and festers by delay. In the house of God we must know no man after the flesh. If our relatives and friends be in the fault, we must not know them as relatives. Thus Levi obtained applause, because in purging the guilt of the golden calf, he knew not his father or mother.

Charities, and a proper attention to the sick and the poor, are among the first and best proofs that the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts. It was the grand test that primitive christianity was of God, and it must be throughout all ages the invariable proof that we have the mind which was in Christ.

The conversion of the priests in so great a number to the faith of Christ, is also a most striking proof of the divine origin of our religion. Whether we consider their prejudices, whether we consider the loss of bread they immediately sustained, or the persecution they instantly incurred, their faith is proof that a divine conviction was its origin. It was not one odd and peculiar man, but a company of learned and well-informed men who nobly risked their lives and interests for the Lord of glory.

Bibliographical Information
Sutcliffe, Joseph. "Commentary on Acts 6". Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New Testaments. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/jsc/acts-6.html. 1835.
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