Author: Ron Graham
—Verse by verse
A verse by verse study of Acts 6:1-15. These verses describe how seven men were chosen as special ministers, and one of them, Stephen, fell foul of the authorities.
Seven Men Chosen Including Stephen
Acts Acts 6:1-7
¶“1At the time, the number of the disciples was greatly increasing. A complaint arose from the Grecian Jews against the Hebrews because the Grecian widows were being neglected in the daily ministry. 2The twelve summoned the multitude of the disciples and said, 'It's not appropriate for us to forsake the word of God and serve tables. 3Therefore brethren, select from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit and of wisdom. 4Then we can appoint those men over this business, and we apostles will continue to devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.' ” (Acts 6:1-4).
¶“5This proposal pleased the whole multitude. They chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolaus, a proselyte of Antioch. 6The congregation presented these men to the apostles. When the apostles had prayed, they laid their hands on the chosen men.” (Acts 6:5-6).
¶“7The word of God increased and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem. A great company of the priests obeyed the faith.” (Acts 6:7).
1 Problem Solved
¶ "At the time, the number of the disciples was greatly increasing. A complaint arose from the Grecian Jews against the Hebrews because the Grecian widows were being neglected in the daily ministry." (Acts 6:1).
- Grecians. The term “Grecian” or “Helenist” refers to Jews from regions of Greek culture. Broadly, the term might refer to Jews or proselytes (Gentile converts to Judaism) who were not locals and didn't speak the local languages but spoke Greek.
- Widows. The “widows” mentioned were women who had not only lost their husbands, but also had no means of their own to live on, and lacked any family to support them (1Timothy 5:3-16). These widows were among the needy who were to benefit from the funds raised from sales of property (Acts 2:45,Acts 4:34-35).
- A complaint Whilst disciples of Christ should never be complainers and disputers (Philippians 2:14), that doesn't refer to legitimate and necessary complaints. Somehow the Grecian widows were being neglected in the support payments. The neglect was unintentional, but the system needed improvement or more attention. A complaint made in the proper manner got the problem recognized and sorted.
- Daily ministry. The benevolent payments were made daily. This doesn't mean that each needy person had to queue up every day at the money tables. The service was open and operating daily to cope with the numbers of the needy and to give prompt attention to their needs.
¶ "The twelve summoned the multitude of the disciples and said, 'It's not appropriate for us to forsake the word of God and serve tables.' " (Acts 6:2).
- To serve tables. When people sold property and brought the money for the needy, they "laid it at the apostles’s feet and distribution was made to each according as anyone had need" (Acts 4:34-35). The apostles were manning the money tables and apportioning the money. But they were also supposed to be preaching the word and attending to the worship of the church. It seems they were making the mistake that Moses had made, trying to do too much and not delegating tasks to trustworthy helpers (Exodus 18:13-27).
¶ " 'Therefore brothers, select from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit and of wisdom. Then we can appoint those men over this business, and we apostles will continue to devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.' " (Acts 6:3-4).
- Choosing and appointing. This is the first case of any officials in the church other than the apostles. These officials were chosen by the congregation, but only according to the word of the apostles, and having been chosen they were appointed by the apostles.
- Elders and Deacons. The seven men chosen were apparently the first deacons —qualified and trustworthy men appointed to be in responsible charge of various tasks. The word “deacon” comes from the Greek διακονος diakonos 1249 (Strong) cf 1247-1248. It can also be translated “servant” or “minister”. There were also elders appointed, at some stage, in the church at Jerusalem (Acts 11:29-30). Presumably these were appointed for similar reasons —to spread the work load. And presumably these were appointed in the same way —chosen by the whole congregation, but according to qualifications commanded by the apostles.
¶ "This proposal pleased the whole multitude. They chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolaus, a proselyte of Antioch. The congregation presented these men to the apostles. When the apostles had prayed, they laid their hands on the chosen men." (Acts 6:5-6).
- Pleased the multitude. The apostles were not in the business of pleasing people and becoming popular. It is to the congregation’s credit that they were pleased by the proposal, because they were happy to obey the apostles’ word. Let us not be multitude pleasers, but wish that multitudes would be pleased to follow the apostles’ teaching.
- Seven Men The seven men all had Greek names and were most likely Grecians. The Hebrew members of the congregation showed a lovely spirit of reconciliation when they chose a Grecian administration to care not only for the Grecian widows, but their own Hebrew widows as well.
- Laid hands on them. This is the first record of the apostles laying hands on people and there is some argument about its purpose. Was it just a ceremony signifying appointment, or was it that "the Holy Spirit was bestowed by the laying on of the apostles’ hands" (Acts 8:14-18)? It seems more likely to be the latter, because two of the men (Stephen and Philip) are seen later preaching the word under inspiration and performing miracles (Acts 6:8-10, Acts 8:5-8).
- When they had prayed. The early disciples took everything they did to the feet of Jesus for his personal blessing. "In everything by prayer and petition with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God" (Philippians 4:6). This is the way of peace. A complaint had been settled, and the parties to it reconciled; but prayer was essential to the peace process and to the success of the human activity and achievement.
2 Progress Enjoyed
¶ "The word of God increased and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem. A great company of the priests obeyed the faith." (Acts 6:7).
- The word of God increased. More and more people were accepting and spreading the apostles’ message, and that message was having an ever growing effect.
- The number of disciples multiplied. At last count, Luke has the number at 5000, and that was counting only men (Acts 4:4). Luke does not give us a new number, but says the number multiplied greatly. So there were many thousands of people in this congregation in Jerusalem.
- A great company of the priests obeyed. The temple hierarchy had been jailing the apostles for preaching the word, but now the temple priests were defecting to the apostles. This was probably the main reason why persecution by the temple authorities was stepped up to a new level, as the story of Stephen will show.
END OF THE FIRST SECTION OF ACTS
With this progress report Luke concludes his description of the origin of Christianity in Jerusalem and the establishment of the church there by the twelve apostles. Persecution is about to scatter some of the converts to other places where new congregations will be planted. The second section of Acts records this spread through Judea, Samaria, and Galilee. It begins with the persecution and killing of Stephen (Acts 6:8 to 9:31).
¶“8Stephen was full of faith and power. He performed great wonders and signs among the people. 9But some of the people rose up against Stephen and disputed with him. These were men of the synagogue called The Libertines, and some of the Cyrenians, Alexandrians, Cilicians and Asians. 10They weren't able to withstand the wisdom and the Spirit by which Stephen spoke.” (Acts 6:8-10).
¶“11Then Stephen’s opposers secretly bribed men to say, 'We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses and God'. 12They stirred up the people, the elders, and the scribes, and came against him and seized him. They dragged Stephen to the Sanhedrin 13and put false witnesses in the stand. They said, 'This man won't stop speaking blasphemous words against this holy place and the law. 14We've heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place, and will change the customs which Moses delivered to us.' ” (Acts 6:11-14).
¶“15All who sat in the council fixed their eyes on Stephen. They all saw that his face had the appearance of the face of an angel.” (Acts 6:15).
3 Persecution Endured
¶ "Stephen was full of faith and power. He performed great wonders and signs among the people. But some of the people rose up against Stephen and disputed with him. These were men of the synagogue called The Libertines, and some of the Cyrenians, Alexandrians, Cilicians and Asians. They weren't able to withstand the wisdom and the Spirit by which Stephen spoke." (Acts 6:8-10).
- Signs among the people. Stephen is now helping in the work begun by the apostles. Not only is he serving in the administration of benevolence, but he is also proclaiming the gospel and "confirming the word with signs following" (Mark 16:20).
- Disputed with Stephen. Part of the arsenal of the temple authorities was debate. They had dealt with the apostles by calling the security guards and having the “offenders” jailed. But with Stephen they tried another approach: they called their best professors from places of high learning to enter into public debate. They lost the debate, but they weren't won over.
- Wisdom and Spirit Stephen was no doubt a very wise man in his own right; but he relied on the power of the Holy Spirit for the wisdom to prevail in this dispute. We must never be wise in our own eyes but ask of God for wisdom from above (James 1:5-8).
¶ "Then Stephen’s opposers secretly bribed men to say, 'We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses and God'. They stirred up the people, the elders, and the scribes, and came against him and seized him. They dragged Stephen to the Sanhedrin and put false witnesses in the stand. They said, 'This man won't stop speaking blasphemous words against this holy place and the law. We've heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place, and will change the customs which Moses delivered to us.' " (Acts 6:11-14).
- False witnesses Having lost the debate, the opposers resort to their lower tactics. They pay bribes to liars. The accusations of these false witnesses are not all false because half truth or twisted truth is often more effective than downright falsehood.
- “This man won't stop speaking” It was certainly true that Stephen wouldn't stop preaching his message.
- “Blasphemous words” This was true in their eyes only; it was actually false. For example they knew the Messiah would be the Son of God and have God’s name and nature (Isaiah 9:6).. They denied that Jesus was the Messiah and only by that denial could they regard the gospel as blasphemy rather than truth.
- “He says Jesus will destroy this place [the temple]” It's true that Jesus predicted the destruction of Jerusalem and its temple within a generation (Matthew 24:1-2,33-34), and it's true that he viewed this destruction as a judgment from God his Father. But in the sense that Jesus declared himself the enemy of the temple the accusation is false. Jesus recognized and respected the temple as God’s house of prayer (Matthew 21:13). There is no reason why it could not have continued to be such had the temple leaders accepted Jesus as the Messiah instead of persecuting and scattering his disciples.
- “He says Jesus will change the customs Moses delivered” It is true that Jesus was "the Mediator of a new covenant" (Hebrews 9:15). The Jews expected a new covenant to replace the law of Moses (Jeremiah 31:31-33). It was false to treat as blasphemy the claim that Jesus would change the law of Moses. The temple hierarchy denied that Jesus was the Messiah, and only by that denial could they regard Stephen’s claim as blasphemy rather than truth. Had they accepted Jesus as Messiah, they would have expected him to abolish the law of Moses and bring in a new covenant.
¶ "All who sat in the council fixed their eyes on Stephen. They all saw that his face had the appearance of the face of an angel." (Acts 6:15).
- Face of an angel. God was granting to the opponents of the gospel evidence of its divine nature: God was performing miracles by the apostles and recently also by Stephen. Now here is Stephen on trial before the Sanhedrin. They can look at him long and hard, and be sure their eyes do not deceive them; they can check whether there are any lights and mirrors or conjurer’s tricks; they can ascertain whether all members of the council see the same thing —Stephen’s face transfigured. All of them saw it. None of them could explain it. Didn't they recall that the face of Moses had long ago shone as a sign that God had spoken to him and he was speaking for God (Exodus 34:29-35, 2Corinthians 3:7)? Stephen’s face was not so bright; but surely its appearance was sufficiently unusual to give the council pause. But no: they ignored the phenomena as though it wasn't happening, and carried on with the hearing.