Acts 6:1. In those days — Some time after the fact last recorded had taken place; when the number of the disciples was multiplied — For it appears their number increased continually and rapidly, notwithstanding the opposition made by the priests and rulers to the preaching of the gospel: indeed that opposition, instead of checking the progress of Christianity, contributed to it: there arose a murmuring — The historian’s manner of speaking, πληθυνοντων των μαθητων εγενετο γογγυσμος, the disciples multiplying, there arose a murmuring, seems to imply, that the murmuring was partly, at least, the consequence of the great increase of the disciples. And certainly, 1st, In proportion as the number of Christians increased, the scandal of the cross would be diminished, and many would be inclined to unite themselves to them, who were influenced by motives not perfectly pure, and were not truly converted to God, and made new creatures in Christ. 2d, The accession of a great number of converts to the church, perhaps chiefly from the poor, would render it more difficult than it was before, to afford all the necessitous a proper supply. But, whatever was the cause of the murmuring here spoken of, it was the first breach made on those who were before of one heart and of one soul. Partiality crept in unawares on some, and murmuring on others. Ah, Lord! how short a time did pure, genuine, undefiled Christianity remain in the world! How soon was its glory, at least in some measure, eclipsed! Of the Grecians — Greek, of the Hellenists, that is, the Jews born out of Judea, so called, because they used the Greek as their native language. These were descendants of such Jews as, in several national calamities, had been forced to flee to Alexandria, and other Gentile countries, or, on account of trade and commerce, had chosen to settle there, and yet kept themselves unmixed with the Gentiles; and, retaining the knowledge of the true God, were wont to come occasionally, especially on the solemn feasts, to worship at Jerusalem. Against the Hebrews — Who were natives of Judea, and therefore used a dialect of the Hebrew, or Syro-Chaldaic tongue; because their widows were neglected — In some degree, as they supposed; in the daily ministration — Of the charities that were distributed to the poor members of the church. It is justly observed here by Mr. Scott, that “as the greatest part of the public stock must have been contributed by the Hebrews, perhaps they, who acted under the apostles in this business, thought it right to show more favour to the poor widows of that description than the others.” It is very probable, however, that the Hellenists suspected more partiality than there really was. Be this as it may, by this real or supposed partiality of the Hebrews, and the murmuring of the Hellenists, there is reason to think the Spirit of God was grieved, and the seeds of a general persecution were sown. For, did God ever, in any age or country, withdraw his restraining providence, and let loose the world upon the Christians, till there was a cause for it among themselves? Is not an open, general persecution, always both penal and medicinal? a punishment of those that will not accept of milder reproofs as well as a medicine to heal their sickness? and at the same time a means of purifying and strengthening those whose hearts are still right with God?
Acts 6:2-4. Then the twelve — For such was now again their number, Matthias having supplied the place of Judas; called the multitude of the disciples unto them — Not the rest of the one hundred and twenty merely, but the whole body of Christian converts, they being the persons to whom satisfaction was then due. See Whitby. It was of great importance that the apostles should immediately take measures to suppress these rising murmurs and discontents; for had they been suffered to remain and take root, they might have produced dangerous disputes and divisions, and have involved the apostles themselves in suspicion and censure. It is not reason — ουκ αρεστον εστιν, it is not right, proper, or, pleasing; namely, to God; that we — Who have an office to discharge of so much greater weight and consequence; should leave the word of God — Should be less frequently employed in dispensing it; and serve tables — Attend to the distribution of money to relieve the wants of the poor; and yet this we must do, in order to prevent these complaints, unless some further measures be taken by common consent. Wherefore, brethren — As you see how inconvenient it would be to suffer this care to lie upon us, and how inevitably it would render us incapable of attending to the proper duties of our office; look ye out among you seven men — A number sufficient for the present; of honest report — That there may be no room to suspect them of partiality and injustice; full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom — For it is not a light matter to dispense even the temporal goods of the church. To do even this well, a large measure both of the gifts and grace of God is requisite. Whom we may appoint over this business — It would have been happy for the church, had its ordinary ministers, in every age, taken the same care to act in concert with the people committed to their charge, which the apostles themselves, extraordinary as their office was, did on this and other occasions. It may be proper to observe here, that in the first church, the primary business of apostles, evangelists, and elders, was to preach the word of God; the secondary, to take a kind of paternal care (the church being then like a family) for the support especially of the poor, the strangers, and the widows. Afterward, as here, the deacons were constituted for this latter business. And whatever time they had to spare from this, they employed in works of spiritual mercy. But their proper office was to take care of the poor. And when some of them afterward preached the gospel, they did this, not by virtue of their deaconship, but of another commission, that of evangelists, which they probably received, not before, but after they were appointed deacons. And it is not unlikely that others were chosen deacons, or stewards, in their room, when any of these commenced evangelists. But we — Being thus freed from this great encumbrance; will give ourselves continually — Will dedicate our whole time; to prayer, and to the ministry of the word — Which is our grand business, and which we would be glad to prosecute without interruption. It is, doubtless, still the proper business of a Christian minister, whether termed a pastor, elder, or bishop, to speak to God in prayer; and to men in preaching his word, as an ambassador for Christ.
Acts 6:5-6. And the saying pleased the multitude — Who had been called together upon this occasion; and — After some little deliberation upon the choice that was to be made; they chose seven — It seems all Hellenists, as their names show; a measure which accorded very well with the occasion of their election; Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Ghost — That is, not only endowed with the ordinary graces of the Holy Spirit, in a high degree, but even with his extraordinary gifts, as appears from the subsequent verses; and Philip — Who long continued an ornament and blessing to the church, being afterward raised to a yet higher character, that of an evangelist; and Nicolas — Who was not a Jew born, but a proselyte of Antioch — That is, one who by circumcision had been incorporated with the Jewish people; for if he had only been what was called a proselyte of the gate, he could not at this time have been a member of the Christian Church, no uncircumcised person being yet admitted into it. As he was a proselyte, others that were proselytes would the more readily apply to him for redress in any matter of grievance; and perhaps his peculiar relation to the Grecians might be a special reason why he was chosen to this office, the disciples being willing to cut off from them all cause of complaint. Whom they set before the apostles — That is, presented to them, as persons in whom they could put confidence, and whom they wished the apostles to accept, as proper for the intended work. And when they had prayed — Supplicated the divine blessing to attend all their ministrations: they laid their hands on them — Both that they might express their solemn appointment of them to the office, and confer upon them such extraordinary gifts as would qualify them yet more abundantly for the full discharge of it.
Acts 6:7. And the word of God increased — The matter of the complaint, and other hinderances being thus removed, and the apostles more entirely at leisure to attend to the great and peculiar duties of their office, the success of the word increased, and the number of the disciples in Jerusalem was, σφοδρα, very much augmented; and a great company — Greek, πολυς οχλος, a great crowd, or multitude, of the priests were obedient to the faith — That is, they embraced the doctrine of the gospel, and evinced the sincerity of their faith in it, by a cheerful compliance with all its rules and precepts.
Acts 6:8-10. And Stephen, full of faith and power — That is, of a strong faith, by which he was enabled to do extraordinary things. They that are full of faith are full of power, because, by faith the power of God is engaged for us. Some valuable copies, however, read χαριτος, grace, instead of πιστεως, faith. Did great wonders and miracles among the people — Did them openly, and in the sight of all: for Christ’s miracles feared not the strictest scrutiny. We need not wonder that Stephen, though not a preacher by office, should do these great wonders; for the gifts of the Spirit were divided among the disciples as God pleased: and the power of working miracles was a gift distinct from that of prophesying or preaching, and bestowed on some to whom the latter was not given, 1 Corinthians 12:10-11. And our Lord promised that the signs of miracles should not only follow them that preached, but them that believed, Mark 16:17. Then there arose certain of the synagogue of the Libertines — So they were styled, whose fathers were once slaves, and afterward made free. This was the case of many Jews, who had been taken captive by the Romans, under Pompey, and carried into Italy, and Cyrenians, &c. — It was one and the same synagogue, which consisted of these several nations. Saul of Cilicia was, doubtless, a member of it. Disputing with Stephen — Arguing with him concerning his doctrine, with a view to prevent the success of his preaching. But such was the force of his reasoning, that they were not able to resist the wisdom, &c. — They could neither support their own arguments nor answer his. He proved Jesus to be the Christ by such irresistible arguments, and delivered himself with so much clearness and evidence, that they had nothing of any weight to object against what he advanced: though they were not convinced, yet they were confounded. It is not said, they were not able to resist him, but to resist the wisdom and the Spirit — That is, the Spirit of wisdom which spake by him. They thought they only disputed with Stephen, and could make their cause good against him; but they were disputing with the Spirit of God in him, for whom they were an unequal match. Now was fulfilled that promise, I will give you a mouth and wisdom, which all your adversaries shall not be able to gainsay or resist, Luke 21:15.
Acts 6:11-14. Then they suborned men — As they found they were incapable of defending themselves by fair argument, they had recourse to a most mean and dishonest fraud; they suborned men to bear false witness against him, and depose that they had heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses — Their great and divinely-commissioned lawgiver; and against God — The great author of that law which Moses delivered by command from him. They were right in supposing that they who blasphemed Moses, if they meant the writings of Moses, which were given by inspiration of God, blasphemed God himself. They that speak reproachfully of the Scriptures, and ridicule them, reflect upon God himself, and do despite to him. But did Stephen blaspheme Moses? By no means; he was far from it. Christ and the preachers of his gospel never said any thing that looked like blaspheming Moses; they always quoted his writings with respect; appealed to them, and said no other things but what Moses foretold should come. Very unjustly, therefore, is Stephen indicted for blaspheming Moses. “On such terms,” says Baxter, “we dispute with malignant men: when they cannot resist the truth, they suborn men to swear to false accusations. And it is next to a miracle of Providence, that no greater number of religious persons have been murdered in the world, by the way of perjury and pretence of law, when so many thousands hate them, who make no conscience of false oaths.” And they stirred up the people and the elders — They incensed both the government and the mob against him, that if they could not prevail by the one, they might by the other; that if the sanhedrim should still think fit, according to Gamaliel’s advice, to let him alone, yet they might prevail against him by popular rage and tumult; or, if the people should countenance and protect him, they might effect his destruction by the authority of the elders and scribes. And came upon him, and caught him — Greek, επισταντες συνηρπασαν, rushing on him, they seized him, and brought him to the council; which, it seems, was then sitting; and there, in the presence of their highest court of judicature, they set up false witnesses — Witnesses that they themselves knew to be false; who said, This man ceaseth not to speak blasphemous words — These suborned witnesses, being brought together, imboldened one another in bearing a false testimony. Against this holy place — Meaning the temple, where they then were; and the law — The divinely- inspired law, as one that has no reverence at all for its authority. For we have heard him say, that Jesus shall destroy this place — Perhaps they had, but that did not prove that he had been guilty of blasphemy. Thus Christ was condemned as a blasphemer, for words which were thought to reflect upon the temple, for the honour of which they seemed to be greatly concerned, at the very time when by their wickedness they were profaning it; making it not only a house of merchandise, but a den of thieves. And shall change the customs which Moses delivered us — It is not probable that Stephen knew the mystery of the abolition of the Mosaic law, which even the apostles do not seem to have had now any idea of. And it is much less probable that he openly taught what Paul himself, many years after, only insinuated, and that with very great caution. Compare Galatians 2:2. This therefore seems to have been merely an inference drawn by them from what he taught concerning the destruction coming on the Jews, if they continued in their unbelief: but it was a very precarious inference, as the city and temple had been destroyed before, without any repeal of the law, and therefore they were false witnesses. And they were still more so in affirming that in saying these things he had spoken blasphemous words against that holy place, and against the law — What blasphemy was it against that holy place, which they at once profaned and idolized, to say that it should not be perpetual, any more than Shiloh was? And that the just and holy God would not continue the privileges of his sanctuary to those that abused them? Had not the prophets given the same warning to their fathers, of the destruction of that holy place by the Chaldeans? Nay, when the temple was first built, did not God himself give the same warning? This house, which is high, shall be an astonishment, 2 Chronicles 7:21. And with respect to the law, which they charged him with blaspheming, that law of which they made their boast, and in which they put their trust, even then, when, through breaking it, they dishonoured God, (Romans 2:23,) how was Stephen’s saying, (if he really did say,) that Jesus would change the customs which Moses had delivered to them, blaspheming it or its glorious Author? Was it not foretold by the prophets, and therefore to be expected, that in the days of the Messiah, the old customs should be changed, and that the shadows should give place when the substance was come? This, however, was no essential change of the law, but the perfecting of it: for Christ came not to destroy the law, but to fulfil it; and if he changed some customs that Moses delivered, it was to introduce and establish those that were much better.
Acts 6:15. And all that sat in the council — The priests, rulers, scribes, and elders; looking steadfastly on him — As being a stranger, and one whom they had not till now had before them, saw his face as it had been the face of an angel — Covered with a supernatural lustre, like that which appeared on the face of our Lord when he was transfigured, or at least that of Moses’s face, when he came down from the mount. Hereby God designed to put honour on his faithful witness, and confusion on his persecutors and judges, whose sin would be highly aggravated, and would indeed be rebellion against the visible glory of God, if, notwithstanding this, they proceeded against him. They reckoned his preaching of Jesus as the Christ, was destroying both Moses and the law; and God bears witness to him with the same glory as he did to Moses, when he gave the law by him. And it was an astonishing instance of the incorrigible hardness and wickedness of their hearts, that they could murder a man on whom God put such a visible glory, similar to that of their great legislator. But we know what little impression other miracles made upon them, the truth of which they were compelled to acknowledge.
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Benson, Joseph. "Commentary on Acts 6". Joseph Benson's Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
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