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Acts 6

Old & New Testament Restoration CommentaryRestoration Commentary

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Verses 1-7

Act 6:1-7

THE SEVEN CHOSEN

Acts 6:1-7

1 Now in these days, when the number of the disciples—Luke, as a faithful historian, now narrates further development of the church; a gradual unfolding of gospel principles is made in the preaching of the gospel, and a gradual development in the organization of the church. The church was established on Pentecost; the historian now reaches a point where the church is four or five years old. The increase in the number of disciples brought about a complication of affairs, and gave an opportunity for the apostles to arrange in a more systematic order for the work and discipline of the large and growing number of disciples. “Now in these days” is a phrase of indefinite time; it is generally understood that the ascension took place about A.D. 30; some think that it was in A.D. 29 and others in A.D. 33; the date is immaterial. The first six chapters of Acts are generally supposed to cover a history of four or five years; hence, at this time the church would be that old. This was a period of great prosperity, as the number of disciples increased daily. “A murmuring” or “muttering” or complaining arose among “the Grecian Jews against the Hebrews.” “Grecian Jews” were “Hellenists,” or Jews who were born and reared in another country than Palestine; “Hebrews” were the Jews who were of pure Jewish blood and spoke the Hebrew language. Paul said that he was “a Hebrew of Hebrews” (Philippians 3:5), which meant that he was of pure Hebrew blood and that he spoke the Hebrew language. The cause of this complaint was because the widows among “the Grecian Jews” were “neglected,” or “overlooked,” in “the daily ministration.” This “murmuring” or whispering of discontent is a sin frequently condemned in the New Testament. (Philippians 2:14; 1 Peter 4:9.) This complaint seems to have been against the apostles, as they had charge of the funds that had been contributed. (Acts 4:35 Acts 4:37 Acts 5:2.) “Daily ministration” shows that there was a daily distribution of things which were needed. This sin of neglect is the second sin that is recorded against any member of the church.

2 And the twelve called the multitude—Here we have “the twelve” apostles mentioned, showing that for these few years of the church all twelve of the apostles were still at Jerusalem. This shows that Matthias was regarded as one of the apostles, for it would take him to complete the list of “the twelve.” (Acts 1:26.) The number of disciples here is spoken of as “the multitude of the disciples.” The apostles stated that it was not best, or satisfactory, for them to give their time to ministering to tables, “serve tables.” They had a higher and more important work to do—preaching the word. In order for them to “serve tables” they would necessarily have to “forsake the word of God” in part at least. “Tables,” as used here, does not mean money tables as in John 2:15, but rather the tables used in the common daily distribution of the food. “Ministration” is from the Greek “diakonia,” and means the same as “to serve.” The Greek word “diakonia,” or “diakonos,” as used here, has the same meaning as used in Philippians 1:1 and 1 Timothy 3:8-13; it is usually translated “deacon.” There are three English words in our version by which “diakonos” is translated; they are “minister,” “servant,” and “deacon.” Sometimes it is translated “bond servant” or “bondman”; it is frequently used to designate a “minister of the gospel.” (1 Corinthians 3:5; 2 Corinthians 3:6; Ephesians 3:7.) The word “deacon” is almost a transcription of “diakonos.” (Philippians 1:1; 1 Timothy 3:8-12.) It is also applied to Phoebe. (Romans 16:1.)

3 Look ye out therefore, brethren,—The term “look ye out” means to “look at” in order to select, to “seek out” as persons for office. The entire multitude of disciples was instructed to do this. They were to select “from among” themselves “seven men.” There is no significance in the number “seven” except that it is a sacred number and usually implies completeness. This number was considered sufficient for the work that they were to do. The qualifications are specified; they were to be “men of good report,” “full of the Spirit,” and men “of wisdom”; these “we” may appoint over this business. The first qualification “of good report” is important ; it is mentioned in Acts 10:22 Acts 16:2; 1 Timothy 5:10. The second qualification was that they were to be “full of the Spirit”; this phrase is frequently used in regard to spiritual gifts and miraculous powers. (Acts 2:4 Acts 4:8.) Furthermore, they were to be men “of wisdom,” which means that they were to have practical sagacity, good sense, and sound judgment. “Whom we may appoint” has received much discussion. Some think that the “we” has reference only to the apostles; others think that it includes the entire church and apostles; since the apostles are directing in this, it seems clear that it includes only the apostles.

4 But we will continue stedfastly in prayer,—“We” here designates the same “we” in the preceding verse; it is clear that it includes the apostles. The apostles would “continue stedfastly”; that is, would adhere to that which they had been doing. (Romans 12:12; Colossians 4:2.) The apostles had been spending much time in prayer; they were determined to continue “in prayer”; this does not merely mean private prayer, but here in the sense of public worship. (Acts 16:13.) If the apostles, filled with the Holy Spirit, needed to continue “stedfastly in prayer,” how much more do we need to pray! “The ministry of the word,” in which they were to steadfastly continue, means serving as preaching and teaching the word. Here, again, we have the word “diakonia,” as used in verse 1, but here it has reference to preaching as the special ministry with which the apostles were concerned.

5 And the saying pleased the whole multitude:—The suggestion made by the apostles met with the hearty approval of “the whole multitude/’ There was no dissent in the meeting; they unanimously concurred in the direction given by the apostles, and proceeded according to their direction. They chose Stephen, Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolaus. All these names are from the Greek language, and indicate the generosity of the Hebrew portion of the multitude in putting this matter in the hands of “the Grecian Jews” from whom the complaint had come. “Stephen” is mentioned first as he was the most conspicuous of the group; “Philip” is the next one mentioned. We have a record of Stephen and also of Philip in the later history of the church; but we do not have any mention of the others after their appointment. Philip is to be distinguished from Philip the apostle. This Philip is “Philip the evangelist.” (Acts 21:8.) Some of Philip’s labors in Samaria and elsewhere are mentioned in the Acts; Stephen was the first martyr; and some think that Nicolaus is mentioned in Revelation 2:6-15. The other four names are not referred to elsewhere in the New Testament. Some have contended that the Greek names do not prove that these were all from the “Grecian Jews”; they think that three of the seven were Hebrews, three Grecians, and one a proselyte.

6 whom they set before the apostles:—After the selection of these seven men who were qualified as mentioned in verse 3, they were placed before the apostles who prayed and “laid their hands upon them.” Much discussion has been had as to the form of “ordaining” these men. The imposition of hands was a practice of long standing among the Jews. Jacob laid hands on the sons of Joseph (Genesis 48:13-14); it is recorded also that Moses laid hands on Joshua (Deuteronomy 34:9); the Levites were set apart to the service of the tabernacle by the imposition of hands (Numbers 8:10); hands were laid on the scapegoat to impart to it the sins to be carried away (Leviticus 16:21). The laying on of hands was a symbol of the impartation of the gifts and graces which were needed to qualify them for their new duties; this was accompanied with prayer that God would bestow the necessary gifts upon them. Some have thought that this is the beginning of the officers in the church known as “deacons”; it may be, but these men are not called deacons. We do not know whether they were appointed in this case of emergency, and ceased when the supplies were exhausted, or when the church was scattered abroad. (Acts 8:1.) It is claimed that they did the work of “deacons,” and that their work is described by the same Greek word that is used for “deacons” ; this may be true, but the fact remains that they are nowhere in the New Testament called “deacons.”

7 And the word of God increased;—“Increased,” as used here, is from “euxanen,” which means “kept on growing all the more” because the apostles were now relieved from the daily ministration of the food. The number of disciples “multiplied” as the result of the increased activities of the apostles in preaching the word. “Multiplied” is from the original “eplethuneto,” which means that the preaching of the apostles and the multiplication of the number of disciples kept pace with each other. “A great company of the priests were obedient to the faith.” The priests were usually Sadducees; it was a sad day for Annas and Caiaphas and all the sect of the Sadducees (Acts 5:17) when such a large number of priests became obedient to the faith. Three things are mentioned here to show the progress of the church: “the word of God increased,” “the number of the disciples multiplied,” and “a great company of the priests were obedient to the faith.” “Obedient to the faith” is equivalent to obeying the gospel; “faith” here means “faith in Jesus Christ as the Son of God, the gospel.”

Verses 1-15

Act 6:1-15

THE PROMISE IS FOR ALL:

LESSONS FROM THE BOOK OF ACTS

Notes For Lesson Six: More Meeting Needs, More Opposition

(Acts 6:1-15)

Last week, we saw the church faced for the first time with difficulties both from within and from without. This time, we shall see that these kinds of problems only grew in size as the church itself grew and spread. In addition to the specific lessons we learn from the trials of the early church, we should remember the general lesson that struggles are not necessarily a sign of having done something wrong, but very often are a natural result of living for God in a perishable world.

Serving the Saints (Acts 6:1-7)

This passage, which is most remembered for the choosing of the seven servants, contains several significant lessons as an example of meeting needs. While we justifiably honor the memory of the specific individuals involved, it is even more important to learn what it shows us about the way that the believers responded when they learned about a problem in their fellowship. As with many examples in Acts, there are lessons we can apply even in situations when the details are different.

The narrative tells us of a complaint coming from one part of the community of believers (Acts 6:1). While not a division, there was a distinction in the Jewish community that had carried over into the new church. Ever since the years when the Greeks had ruled the area where the Jews lived, there were some Jews who had grown up following Greek cultural customs, thus called Hellenistic (or Grecian) Jews, and others who still adhered strictly to Hebrew cultural practices in addition to Jewish religious observances. The new church of Jesus had many members from both groups. Before the time of Jesus, there were sometimes tensions between the two groups, and this situation partially explains the cause of the Grecian Jews’ feeling that their widows were in some way not getting their fair share when the church used its resources to help those who were in daily need.

The Twelve are consulted, and make a proposal to the rest of the believers (Acts 6:2-4). Two aspects of their response are particularly interesting. They immediately acknowledge the need for fairness in the food distribution, rather than making excuses to avoid dealing with the complaint. Then, they indicate that they themselves should not be pulled away from their current responsibilities to tend to it, but that instead it should be handled by seven men chosen specifically for the task*. The Twelve themselves will continue to devote themselves "to prayer and the ministry of the word". The distribution of responsibility is one of the features of the early church that helped it to grow. it did not have a small group of persons trying to do everything because they wanted all the power for themselves, nor did it have a large mass of members who did nothing but wait to be served. They were aware of needs, acknowledged them when they existed, and did everything possible to match responsibilities with those who were best qualified to meet them.

This passage is, of course, often considered to be one of the models for appointing deacons. Note that in the actual passage they are not referred to as deacons or with any other title. The word in the Scriptures for "deacon" (found, for example, in Timothy and Titus) is simply the common word for "servant", and thus is more of a description than an honorific title. While the term is not expressly used in Acts 6, the responsibilities and the criteria fit well with the more detailed descriptions of deacons that Paul gives in his epistles, and so we can at least apply the general principles that we see here in Acts 6 in this regard.

Also significant are the criteria that the Twelve announce for choosing these servants. Rather than calling for individuals with vast food service experience, they indicate the importance of wisdom and spirituality. Many of the responsibilities in the church can be learned by anyone with the right attitude and a good relationship with God, whereas fleshly talents are not in themselves of genuine help to the ministry of Christ unless they are used with the right perspective and a desire to glorify God rather than self. These principles, then, were those used in choosing the seven (Acts 6:5-7). Stephen and the other six men* could be confidently entrusted with this ministry because everyone knew that they would handle any questions with wisdom, love, and impartiality. The apostles then pray and lay their hands on them as a sign of acceptance and sharing of purpose. Acts 6:7 notes that this action was followed by another period of growth, as the gospel continued to spread through the city. We should always remember that, if we want to see the church grow, we have to be ready to see to it that the members we already have are being cared for spiritually.

A minor but interesting point is that most of the men chosen have Greek names, meaning that they ought to be particularly satisfactory to the Grecian Jews who were worried that they were not being treated fairly.

For Study or Discussion: What kinds of parallels may there be in our own experience to the difficulty that arose in this passage? What can we learn about the ways the church dealt with it? Make sure to think about the spiritual lessons, not merely the fact that they appointed some persons to deal with the situation. Why is it necessary to deal properly with this kind of situation if the church is to grow?

Another Attack (Acts 6:8-15)

The attack on Stephen is the most carefully planned attempt yet on the part of the opponents of the church. Next time, we shall also see that it had a more violent end result than did the confrontations we have seen so far. Those who accused Stephen did so not because of anything he did wrong, but rather they were simply roused to jealousy because of Stephen’s Spirit-filled ministry. They did give him the opportunity to proclaim some important truths from the Scriptures. His speech to the Sanhedrin is important enough that we shall study it in a separate class next week.

First there is a brief description of Stephen’s ministry (Acts 6:8-10). Although he was just chosen to be a servant, with important responsibilities in meeting personal needs among the believers, we see here that he did many other things as well. He is described as full of both grace and power, that is, a man with a keen sense of mercy and love whose life also displayed God’s power. It is also added that he had the ability to perform miraculous works. But his ministry also aroused opposition from unbelievers, whether because they did not like what they heard of him, or perhaps because of his activities in directly speaking to unbelievers about the gospel. It is noticeable that the opposition to Stephen comes from Jews who had returned to Jerusalem after living elsewhere* in Asia or Africa, rather than from the Hebraic Jews native to Jerusalem. But these opponents find little success arguing against Stephen, because of the wisdom that the Spirit gave to Stephen.

The "Synagogue of the Freedmen" consisted of Jews who had once been held as Roman slaves and then emancipated, or else whose parents or grandfathers had been freed from slavery. When General Pompey conquered Jerusalem in 63 BC, he carried off many Jews as slaves, and they ended up throughout the Roman Empire. It was not uncommon for Roman slaves to earn their freedom, and in the Empire former slaves were generally quite proud of having earned their freedom. Released slaves would often pass on the title of "freed man" to their children and grandchildren, even if their descendants had not actually been enslaved themselves.

So they try a tactic that was also used against Jesus, making false accusations that lead to Stephen being arrested (Acts 6:11-15). Knowing that Stephen had committed no actual crime, they produced false witnesses. It is always disturbing to hear lies told about us, and when there is a concerted campaign of this nature it is also frightening. But all this puts Stephen in good company, including Jesus himself. When we preach Jesus and only Jesus, it terrifies the worldly, and lies are a standard tactic that they use in their desperate desire to avoid the truth. Stephen responds with great calm, and those watching him see that his face is "like the face of an angel". He knows that this is an opportunity, and will make us of it despite the danger he is in. Even in the few examples of opposition that we have seen so far, there are interesting parallels and contrasts. Sometimes no harm comes to the believers, other times it does. Sometimes they persuade unbelievers of the truth, other times they do not. But at all times they commit themselves to the truth and trust in God, knowing that the only thing they can control is their own response and their own willingness to testify about Jesus, as God has called them to, regardless of short-term results.

For Study or Discussion: What did Stephen do or not do that provoked this attack on him? What tactics do his opponents use to discredit him? What kinds of similar tactics might we face? Compare this confrontation with those in Acts 4 and Acts 5 (especially in light of what eventually happens to Stephen). What general lessons do we learn about handling opposition to our message about Jesus?

- Mark W. Garner, April 2002

Acts Chapter Six

Ralph Starling

While the number of disciples continued increasing,

A serious problem arose about the directions.

The benevolent work was done, the funds collected,

The Hebrews were favored but the Grecians neglected.

A solution was needed and that real quick,

A meeting was called to find a quick fix.

The 12 already had their hands filled.

Find the 7 honest men to fill that bill.

The solution was quickly received,

7 men were asked who readily agreed.

Not only was the Grecian problem relieved,

The Word brought multitudes to believe.

But problems would not leave them.

Five nationals disputed with Stephen,

And went before the council with false accusations.

But the council saw his face as the face of an angel

(Note: This hearing continues in the hearing of Acts Chapter 7)

Verses 8-15

Act 6:8-15

GOSPEL PREACHED IN JUDEA AND SAMARIA

Acts 6:8 to Acts 8:25

STEPHEN ARRESTED AND TRIED

Acts 6:8-15

8 And Stephen, full of grace and power,—Stephen was described as “a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit” when he was selected; here he is described as being “full of grace and power.” “Grace” is used here in the sense of favor with God; “power” does not merely mean strength and fortitude, but some unusual power, enabling him to be the instrument of doing great wonders or miracles among the people. It is thought that Stephen was a “Grecian Jew,” who had accepted Christ; he worked “great wonders and signs among the people.”

9 But there arose certain of them—This verse has confused many commentators, and given them no little trouble. “The synagogue of the Libertines” were the Jews who were one time slaves, but had been given their liberty. Some think that they were merely Jews of Rome, who had been taken there as captives by Pompey. “Libertines” comes from the Latin which means “freedman,” or “the son of a freedman.” It is said that there were two hundred eighty synagogues in Jerusalem; these places of worship and study were in all the cities of later times where there were Jews enough to maintain one. Luke here speaks of five such synagogues in Jerusalem—“Libertines,” “Cyrenians,” “Alexandrians,” “Cilicia,” and “Asia.” There were probably enough “Hellenists” in Jerusalem to have five such synagogues. Cyrene was in Africa, about halfway between Carthage and Alexandria; it contained a large number of Jews, who constituted one-fourth of its entire population. (Mark 15:21; Acts 13:1.) Alexandria was the capital of Egypt, and was founded by Alexander the Great. In no city save Jerusalem were there so many Jews, nor had they so much power anywhere out of Palestine; the Septuagint translation of the Old Testament had been made at Alexandria for Jews there. Cilicia was at the southeast corner of what is now called Asia Minor; it contained a large number of Jews; Asia in the New Testament always means the northwest corner of Asia Minor, which had Ephesus for its capital. Stephen engaged all of these synagogues in controversy about Christ.

10 And they were not able to withstand the wisdom—Stephen was “full of grace and power" and representatives of these synagogues were unable to meet his arguments. He spoke with such fearlessness, clearness of argument, understanding of the prophecy, and power of the Spirit that his speech was irresistible.

11 Then they suborned men, who said,—“Suborned” is from “hupoballo,” which originally meant “to put under like a carpet, to bring men under one’s control by suggestion or money.” Here it means that they put these men forward in an underhand way for fraud. These men for money or for some wicked motive bore witness that they had heard Stephen “speak blasphemous words against Moses, and against God.” They brought the same accusation against Christ. (Matthew 26:65; Mark 2:7.) Punishment for blasphemy against God was death by stoning. (Leviticus 24:16; Deuteronomy 13:6-10.) They charged Stephen with blaspheming Moses, and concluded their charge that he had blasphemed God.

12-13 And they stirred up the people,—The original, “sunek- inesan,” means they shook the people together like an earthquake. The wrangling Libertines and the others of verse 9 were the leaders of this mob against Stephen; with the testimony of these false witnesses they “stirred up” the people; the elders and the scribes rushed upon Stephen and brought him into the council. After Stephen was brought into the presence of the council, again they “set up false witnesses” who testified that “this man ceaseth not to speak words against this holy place, and the law.” They enlarged upon the testimony that was first borne; this time they add that Stephen not only blasphemed Moses and God, but that he spoke “words against this holy place,” meaning Jerusalem, or the temple. They made wild charges against Stephen that he had spoken against the law and the temple; it is supposed that they had reference to what Stephen had spoken in their synagogues.

14 for we have heard him say,—Probably Stephen had warned the people that if they persisted in their opposition to Jesus their city and temple would be destroyed. Jesus himself had made declarations of the same import. (Matthew 26:61; Luke 19:41-44.) They perverted what Jesus had said, and now they put a wrong construction on what Stephen says. Jesus had predicted the destruction of the temple, but it was to be done by the Gentiles. The enemies of Stephen were unable to meet his arguments, and they resorted to violent means; this was a confession that they could not withstand his arguments. Their charges were false, and they proceeded upon false accusations.

15 And all that sat in the council,—Probably Saul of Tarsus sat in this council with others and saw the face of Stephen shine as though “it had been the face of an angel.” His face was lighted up with divine radiance. The members of the council literally gazed upon him as if they had seen “the face of an angel.” Even his enemies saw his face as if it were the face of an angel, but they were too wicked to turn from their evil course. The face of Moses shone in a similar way when he came down from the mountain. (Exodus 34:30; 2 Corinthians 3:7.) We do not know where Peter and John were at this time; it seems that Stephen stood alone before the Sanhedrin as did Jesus; however, he was not alone, for he saw Jesus standing at the right hand of God. (Acts 7:56.) There was little that Peter and John could do at this time; Gamaliel did not interpose this time, for the Pharisees were behind the charges against Stephen.

Questions on Acts

By E.M. Zerr

Acts Chapter 6

  • · What was the numerical condition of the disciples now?

  • · Tell what arose.

  • · Who brought up the murmuring?

  • · State difference between these and the Hebrews.

  • · Who were being neglected?

  • · In what circumstance was this claimed to be done?

  • · Refer to the origin of this service.

  • · Who are meant by "the twelve"?

  • · What did they call?

  • · What did they say would not be reasonable?

  • · What clamor seemed to suggest such a neglect?

  • · To what does "serve" refer in verse two?

  • · Explain what would be unreasonable about this.

  • · Who were to do the "looking out"?

  • · How many men were to be selected?

  • · Of what kind of reputation?

  • · To be full of what?

  • · From among whom must this selection be made?

  • · Would these all be Christians?

  • · Might there be some not having the Spirit?

  • · Was possession of it necessary to being a Christian?

  • · Or was it any personal advantage to possess it?

  • · Why should it be required in this case?

  • · Who were to do the selecting?

  • · Who were to do the appointing?

  • · What opportunity would this leave for the apostles?

  • · How was the proposition received by the people?

  • · Name two of the men selected.

  • · Call you call them deacons by biblical authority?

  • · Before whom were the seven men set?

  • · Tell the ceremony the apostles performed.

  • · What was conferred by laying on of apostles hands?

  • · What happened to the word of God?

  • · Does his mean additional revelation?

  • · What was multiplied?

  • · Tell what special class furnished obedience.

  • · How many priests could there be at one time?

  • · Which of the seven is now introduced?

  • · Of what is he said to be full?

  • · What did he do?

  • · Was this done for a select few?

  • · Did he meet with any opposition?

  • · What use is made of the word "synagogue"?

  • · Name the classes arrayed before Stephen.

  • · What were they doing with him?

  • · In the dispute which was victor?

  • · State the means with which he disputed.

  • · How had he obtained these means?

  • · In what manner did they secure the men?

  • · State what they testified.

  • · Name the three classes they stirred up.

  • · What did they set up?

  • · Tell what they accused against Stephen.

  • · Where did they claim to get their information?

  • · What saying of Jesus did they pervert?

  • · State what Jesus really meant.

  • · Was the charge disquieting to Stephen?

  • · In the hearing how was his countenance?

  • · By whom was this fact observed?

Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on Acts 6". "Old & New Testament Restoration Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/onr/acts-6.html.
 
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