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Bible Commentaries

William Godbey's Commentary on the New Testament
Acts 6

 

 

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Verse 1

HELLENISTS AND HEBREWS

1. Do not forget that the gospel began among the Jews exclusively, the Gentiles having nothing to do with it; hence the Christian Church, originally like the Jewish, was purely Judaic. With the roll of a century, it underwent a radical somersault, eliminating the Jewish and incorporating the Gentile element. “Grecian” in E. V. leads to the conclusion that they were Gentile Greeks, which is incorrect. They were Jews, native and proselyte, who spoke the Greek language and used it in their synagogue worship in contradistinction to other Jews [doubtless nearly all native], who spoke the Hebrew language, using it in their synagogues. It was natural to recognize a degree of preference for these native Jews and pure Hebrews, though, doubtless inadvertently, holding them in a degree of estimation above the Greek-speaking Jews, largely proselytic; hence the complaint that the Hellenistic widows were neglected in their daily ministration. Christian widows, unencumbered with families at that time, got filled with the Holy Ghost, turned preachers, being eminently useful as soul-savers; thus devoting all their time, with no means of support, they lived on church charities. What a pity in this respect, the church of the present day does not go back to first principles! How eminently useful our unencumbered holy widows would be if thus utilized, preaching the gospel in family circles, mission-rooms and on the streets. Dr. Carradine, in his last pastorate in St. Louis, used them much to the glory of God and the salvation of souls, recognizing the policy of the Apostolic Church. At this time the Greek language [spoken by these Hellenistic Jews] was the language of the world, having through the Alexandrian conquests reached all nations and become universal. While reading the Old Testament, we all see the hand of the Almighty on the Jews, but intuitively drift to the conclusion that it was not on the Gentiles. In this we are egregiously mistaken. The difference is that we have the inspired history of the Jews and not of the Gentiles. B. C. 32, Alexander, a youth of one and twenty years, succeeded his father Philip on the throne of Macedonia, a small country in northern Greece. Finding but thirty-five thousand dollars in the royal treasury, and thirty-five thousand men in the army, the first transaction of his regal administration was to divide out the money equally among the soldiers, giving each man a dollar apiece. Observing that the young king left himself moneyless, a bystander asked, “Now, king, what have you left for yourself?” The sanguine youth responded, “My hopes.” “What are your hopes?” “Why, that I shall conquer all the world.” At that time the Persian Empire reached from India to Ethiopia, containing a hundred and twenty-seven States, nearly all of the known world which was sufficiently important to appropriate, except Greece, which, though small, had simply proved too heroic for the Persian conquest, even under the leadership of Xerxes, with his two million and five hundred thousand warriors, the largest army ever mustered on the globe. Alexander succeeds in inspiring his little band with the same paradoxical hope of conquering all the world. Consequently he invades the great Persian Empire, is met by the royal army on the plains of Granicus. A terrible battle ensues, leaving forty thousand Persians dead on the field, while Alexander didn’t lose a man. This stunned the mighty Persian monarch and woke him up to recognize in the young Grecian no child at play. Great preparations were now made, feeling sure they would capture the impudent youth with his audacious followers and settle the matter once for all. Alexander meets them on the plains of Issus. where an awful battle is fought, lasting three days. One hundred thousand Persians are left dead on the field, while Alexander’s loss was simply nothing. This awful defeat sent panic throughout the Persian Empire. King Darius gives the matter personal attention. An innumerable army is rendezvoused from the one hundred and twenty-seven States of the Empire. The sons of royalty from the diversified kingdoms encourage the army with their personal presence. King Darius is on hand, commander-in-chief. The powers of earth are combined against the paradoxical foe they find in the haughty young Grecian. They meet on the plains of Arbela, which, I trow, proved the greatest battle the world ever saw. It lasts a solid week. Rivers of blood deluge the fields. Mountains of the dead accumulate. Three hundred thousand Persian warriors are left dead on the field. The Greek is everywhere triumphant. Darius flies for his life, his vast army utterly demolished and disorganized. Alexander overtakes the fugitive monarch on the banks of the Indian Ocean. Darius now pleads for his crown, proposing to Alexander that they divide the world half and half. Alexander points to the sun, then in his noon-day glory. “Do you see that sun? Could the world endure two suns? You know they would burn it up. So this world can not have two kings. I must have it all.” Now, account for the fact that this boy of one and twenty, with no money and a handful of men, conquered all the world and wept because he couldn’t find another one to conquer. God was in it. This wonderful Greek language, the finest the ages ever knew, the culmination of that climacteric Greek learning in which they excelled all nations, astonishing the ages with their achievements in poetry, oratory, philosophy and the fine arts, thus eclipsing all the nations of the earth and becoming the honored teachers of the young kings resorting thither from every land and clime to learn wisdom at the feet of the Greek philosopher. Why these great wonders? God, through these poets, orators, philosophers and scholars, was manufacturing the Greek language, the beauty, precision, and vivacity of those mechanism is the riddle of modern scholarship. God thus prepared it — His chosen vehicle, in which to preach the gospel to every nation. He gave Alexander the conquest of the world that he might turn over every government on the globe to the cultured Greeks, who established their wonderful language in the learned circles of every nation under heaven, thus through these wonderful providences preparing the world for the reception of the gospel. Again we have the significant fact that in the early centuries of the Christian era this wonderful language was taken out of the mouths of all nations like the Hebrew of the Old Testament at an earlier day, lest the nations of the earth might corrupt them. Therefore we have the inspired archives of the Hebrew and Greek kept in their pristine purity, locked up in these dead languages, whither we can all go and find the unadulterated truth as it is in Jesus, and transmit it to the world. Oh, the wonders of the divine administration!


Verses 2-5

THE DEACONATE

2-5. God is a great Organizer. Hence He has given the New Testament Church a simple, perfect and beautiful organization. The bishop is the leader of the holiness band [for such were all of the Apostolic churches], while the deacon has charge of all the temporal interests of the church in every respect, and the eldership, originally in Israel consisting of seventy, instituted by Jethro, the father-in-law of Moses, when he visited the children of Israel in the wilderness, and transferred by the apostles into the Christian dispensation. Spiritual seniority constitutes the basis of the New Testament eldership, which is a judicatory body having charge of the general interest of the church. Hence the church is not a democracy, but has an organized government. The deaconate is prominent among the Baptists, who give that office its Scriptural attitude. If they would only adhere to first principles and invest none with the deaconate unless they are “full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom,” Acts 6:3. The Presbyterians give prominence to the eldership, honoring the New Testament in that office. If they would only see that none serve as elders except those who are filled with the Holy Ghost. If the Holiness Movement does not glorify God by coming back to first principles, and revealing to the world New Testament simplicity, she will forfeit her crown, and God will give it to another. This we can not afford to do. As it is very doubtful whether any of the great reformations have ever reached primary truth and institutionality since the Constantinian apostasy, it becomes the more imperative that we divest ourselves of every weight and run for the prize set before us. How strange that every church in Christendom does not gladly drop all of her human inventions and come back to first principles! since an awful woe is pronounced against both addition and subtraction. The popular churches are burdened to death with institutions of their own creation, alien from the Bible, and, in many cases, antagonistical to it. These grieve the Holy Spirit away and turn them over to the enemy. The New Testament is plain on all doctrines and institutions.

We need nothing else. Human creeds and institutions divide the people of God, build up warring sects, grieve the Holy Spirit, alienate the people from God, and do a world of mischief, which the Judgment Day can alone reveal. So long as the apostolic church professed and preached entire sanctification she had neither creeds nor schisms. There are always green pastures somewhere in the Church of God, whither the sheep may go, eat and be filled and lie down by the still waters. Human creeds and institutions are the devil’s fences dividing up Emmanuel’s laud, shutting up many poor sheep in dry and desolate pastures, where they starve to death in piles. God has raised up the Holiness Movement to knock down the devil’s fences and lead all of the sheep to the green pastures and still waters, where they may prosper and glorify God.


Verse 6

ORDINATION

6. “Whom they placed before the apostles, and praying, laid hands on them.” Here is all the ordination you can find in the New Testament. It is very simple, and I see much of it among holiness people in my peregrinations. The Lord’s elders, bishops, deacons and saints gather around the dear ones, whom the Holy Ghost has called to go and work in His vineyard, lay hands on them, pray, bless and send them forth. There is but one qualification specified in the New Testament for a Christian worker, preacher, officer, and that is, to be filled with the Holy Ghost. In the E. V. prominence is given to the church ordination, through mere courtesy to the Episcopal Church, under whose auspices the translation was made. You will find as a rule where the E. V. uses the word ordination, it is not in the Greek. We have no objections to the word if used in this same, primitive New Testament sense, designating the gathering of the saints around the candidates for the Lord’s work, and praying for them with the imposition of hands.


Verse 7

7. “And a great multitude of the priests were obedient to the faith.” Here we find, much to our encouragement, that amid the sweeping victories of the Pentecostal revival, a large number of the regular preachers got religion. Good Lord, save us from the Satanic humbuggery that would recognize preachers as Christians simply because they are preachers. I wish it were true in case of half of them, and the other half, too. But, working in the clear light of God’s Word, Spirit and providence, we are forced to the concession of many unconverted preachers. Of this number, not a few have been truly converted, but grieving the Holy Spirit, rebelling against sanctification, becoming secular and popular, have sunk into a grievous antinomian spiritual death. Lord, make us useful in the conversion of preachers, as well as other people. God forbid that at the devil should get the dear preachers.


Verses 8-15

STEPHEN’S MINISTRY

8-15. Though Stephen was but a poor, uncultured layman, honored with the office of deacon, i. e., permitted to sweep the floor, and light the lamps, and collect money to support the evangelistic widows, they complimented him with this office because he was “full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom.” Yet, like all of the disciples in the Apostolic age (Acts 8:4), he preached the living Word. He did not have to get a license; the apostles had none for themselves nor anybody else. Thus far the plug-hatted clergymen who invented license had not been born. As Stephen is identified with those Hellenistic synagogues in which the Greek language is spoken, he goes to preaching in them with all his might. The representatives of these synagogues, dispersed in all heathen lands, had come to Jerusalem to attend the great Jewish feast of Pentecost, which so miraculously and unexpectedly by divine intervention was transformed into the most memorable revival the world ever saw and memorialized with the incarnation of the Holy Ghost, and the embarkation of the gospel ship. These synagogues, here represented by their delegates, were the Libertines, i. e., the freed people, consisting of Jews who had been carried to Rome as slaves, but afterward liberated by the Emperors; the Cyrenians from Cyrene, a large city in northern Africa, on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea, where there were many Jews; the Alexandrians, from the city of Alexandria, the capital of Egypt, where the Jews dwelt in great numbers and were much encouraged by Ptolemy Philadelphus, who had the Hebrew Bible translated into Greek, known as the Septuagint, for the benefit of his Jewish subjects; and the Greek-speaking Jews from Cilicia and Asia. Here we find the first indirect mention of that celebrated man, Saul of Tarsus, destined in two more chapters to come to the front and prove the hero of this inspired history. Since he was born to rule, depend on it, he was the speaker of the opposition against Stephen, with the delegates from all of these prominent cities holding up his hands while he pressed the battle to the awful ultimatum of Stephen’s martyrdom.


Verse 10

10. “And they were not able to resist the wisdom and the spirit with which he spoke.” Oh! what a contrast we here have between the wisdom, intellect, learning and resources of the world and the wisdom of God! Here, with the greatest intellectualist and scholar the world could produce, surrounded by a platoon of preachers, one humble, uncultured layman proves more than a match for them all; as the Holy Ghost says they were “unable to resist the wisdom and spirit with which Stephen spoke.” See the whole crowd with their mighty leader, Saul of Tarsus, put in total eclipse and literally snowed under by a solitary layman. Therefore, to their ineffaceable shame, they resort to bribery, raising up false witnesses that they may bring an accusation against him. Stephen preached the perfect sufficiency of Jesus, His vicarious atonement and cleansing blood, received and appropriated by the Holy Ghost, of course relegating the types and shadows of the Mosaic dispensation to bygone years, no longer significant because superseded and verified by the great Antitype. This they construed as inveighing against the law of Moses. This notable history has a thousand parallels at the present day. We can not preach the perfect sufficiency of Jesus only and the omnipotence of the present Holy Ghost in full salvation and the perfect sufficiency of God’s Word, doctrinally, institutionally, legally and every other way, without at least indirectly reflecting on the human institutions and bogus legislation of fallen ecclesiasticisms. Then they cry out that we are inveighing against the church, whereas we are defending the church of God with all our might, precisely as Stephen did, when they charged him with disloyalty to the church and killed him for it. He was the first martyr, leading the way and showing the people how to die for the truth. Two hundred millions have followed in his bloody track, like Stephen, dying under charges of disloyalty to what carnal preachers call the church, as they did in case of Stephen. If they had the co-operation of the secular arm these defenders of what they call the church would kill us this day, as they did Stephen and the mighty host of his successors. Beware of the clamor of church loyalty! That is the very shibboleth that piled the rocks on Stephen, fed the martyrs to the lions and burnt them at the stake. It is impossible to be loyal to God and disloyal to His church. When they talk to you about loyalty to God, open your Bible and shout Amen! When they talk to you about loyalty to the church, look out! that is the old hackneyed cry of persecution, from Stephen down to the present day.


Verse 15

15. “And all who were sitting in the Sanhedrin, looking upon him, saw his countenance as the face of an angel.” Now, remember, that the popular preachers, standing at the head of the churches, persecute Stephen unto death. Why did they not desist when they see the very glory of God radiant in his countenance? The solution is very simple, they did not have the discernment of the Holy Ghost, hence they mistook the very glory of heaven radiant from his countenance for his own mean, stubborn, self- willed, contrary spirit, which convinced them the more that he deserved to die for disloyalty to the church.

 


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Bibliography Information
Godbey, William. "Commentary on Acts 6:4". "William Godbey's Commentary on the New Testament". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/ges/acts-6.html.

Lectionary Calendar
Sunday, September 22nd, 2019
the Week of Proper 20 / Ordinary 25
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