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÷÷ACTS 6

ACTS 6

PARAGRAPH DIVISIONS OF MODERN TRANSLATIONS

UBS4 NKJV NRSV TEV NJB
The Appointment of the Seven Seven Chosen to Serve Choice of the Seven The Seven Helpers The Institution of the Seven
6:1-6 6:1-7 6:1-7 6:1-4 6:1-6
6:5-6
6:7 6:7 6:7
Th e Arrest of Stephen Stephen Accused of Blasphemy Preaching and Martyrdom of Stephen The Arrest of Stephen Stephen's Arrest
(6:8-7:2a)
6:8-15 6:8-15 6:8-7:2a 6:8-15 6:8-15

READING CYCLE THREE (see "Bible Interpretation Seminar")

FOLLOWING THE ORIGINAL AUTHOR'S INTENT AT PARAGRAPH LEVEL

This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects (reading cycle #3). Compare your subject divisions with the five translations above. Paragraphing is not inspired, but it is the key to following the original author's intent, which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one subject.

  1. First paragraph
  2. Second paragraph
  3. Third paragraph, etc.

CONTEXTUAL INSIGHTS

  1. Acts 6 and 7 are Luke's literary/historical way of beginning to discuss the Gentile mission.

  2. The church in Jerusalem had grown rapidly by this time (cf. Acts 6:1).

  3. The Church was made up of Aramaic-speaking Jews from Palestine and Greek-speaking Jews from the Diaspora.

WORD AND PHRASE STUDY

÷ACTS 6:1-6

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: ACTS 6:1-6
 1Now at this time while the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint arose on the part of the Hellenistic Jews against the native Hebrews, because their widows were being overlooked in the daily serving of food. 2So the twelve summoned the congregation of the disciples and said, "It is not desirable for us to neglect the word of God in order to serve tables. 3Therefore, brethren, select from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may put in charge of this task. 4"But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word." 5The statement found approval with the whole congregation; and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, and Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas and Nicolas, a proselyte from Antioch. 6And these they brought before the apostles; and after praying, they laid their hands on them.

6:1 "disciples" This is literally "learners" from the VERB manthanō. It is important to realize that the NT emphasizes "becoming disciples" (cf. Matt. 28:19; Act 14:21), not merely making a decision. This designation for believers is unique to the Gospels and Acts. In the Letters, the terms "brothers" and "saints" are used to designate the followers of Jesus.

▣ "were increasing in number" This is a PRESENT ACTIVE PARTICIPLE. Growth always causes tension.

▣ "complaint" This term means "to speak privately in a low voice" (i.e., private conversations between individuals, Moulton, Analytical Lexicon, p. 81). It occurs several times in the LXX of Exodus describing the Wilderness Wandering Period (cf. Exod. 16:7,8; 17:3; also Num. 11:1; 14:27). This same word is found in Luke 5:30 and several times in John (cf. John 6:41,43,61; 7:12,32).

▣ "the Hellenistic Jews against the native Hebrews" This refers to believing Jews, those who were from Palestine and spoke primarily Aramaic and those who grew up in the Diaspora and spoke primarily Koine Greek. There were certainly cultural and racial overtones in this situation.

▣ "the daily serving of food" The early church followed the patterns of the Synagogue. Every week funds (i.e., alms) were collected to feed the poor. This money was used to buy food, which was given out weekly by the Synagogue and daily by the early church.

It seems from history that many Jewish families who lived and worked in other countries returned to Palestine in the father's later years so that he could be buried in the Promised Land. Therefore, there were many widows in Palestine, especially the Jerusalem area.

Judaism had an institutional (i.e., Mosaic Covenant) concern for the poor, alien, and widows (cf. Exod. 22:21-24; Deut. 10:18; 24:17). Luke's writings show that Jesus, too, cared for widows (cf. Luke 7:11-15; 18:7-8; 21:1-4). It is, then, natural that the early church, patterning itself on both the Synagogue social services and the teachings of Jesus, would have an overt concern for church widows.

Special Topic: Almsgiving

6:2 "The twelve" This was the collective title for the Apostles in Acts. Those were the first specially chosen companions of Jesus during His earthly ministry, starting in Galilee.

Special Topic: Twelve

▣ "summoned the congregation of the disciples" Exactly what is meant here is uncertain in this sense that the church was made up of several thousand people at this point, so no home or business was large enough to accommodate this gathering. This must have taken place in the Temple itself, probably Solomon's Portico (cf. Acts 3:11; 5:12).

This is the first example of what came to be called congregational polity (cf. Acts 6:3,5; 15:22). This is one of three biblical ways the modern church organizes itself:

  1. episcopal (i.e., one top leader)
  2. presbyterian (i.e., a group of leaders)
  3. congregational (i.e., the whole body of believers)

All are present in Acts 15.

Special Topic: Church Polity

▣ "It is not desirable for us to neglect the word of God in order to serve tables" This is not a disparaging word about serving, but the beginning of the sensed need for a division of pastoral responsibilities among the people of God. These were not offices, but delegated functions. Gospel proclamation must take priority over some needed ministries. The Apostles were uniquely called and qualified for their task. Nothing should take away from that task. This was not an "either/or," but a "both/and" situation.

The word "serve" is the common Greek term for service, diakonia. Unfortunately many modern commentators, looking for guidelines for the later office of deacon (cf. Phil. 1:1; 1 Tim. 3:8-10,12-13), have used this text to define that ministry task. However, these are not "deacons"; they are lay ministers/preachers. Only eisegesis can find deacons in Acts 6.

It is interesting to me how this early church conducted its ministry without buildings.

  1. When they all met together it must have been at the Temple.
  2. On Sabbaths they surely met with their local synagogues and on Sundays probably in house churches.
  3. During the week (daily) the Apostles moved from believer's home to believer's home (cf. Acts 2:46).
6:3
NASB, NRSV, Peshitta   "select"
NKJV   "seek out"
TEV   "choose"
NJB   "must select"
REB   "pick"

This is an AORIST MIDDLE (deponent) IMPERATIVE. Something had to be done to restore unity and the spirit of one accord. This pastoral issue had the potential to affect the furtherance of the gospel. The church had to organize for ministry. Every believer is a called, gifted, full-time minister (cf. Eph. 4:11-16).

▣ "seven men" There is no reason for this number except that it was often the symbolic number of perfection in the OT because of its relation to the seven days of creation (cf. Genesis 1; Psalm 104). In the OT there is a precedent for this same process of developing a second-tier leadership (cf. Numbers 18).

Special Topic: Symbolic Numbers in Scripture

NASB, NJB   "of good reputation"
NKJV   "of good reputation"
NRSV   "of good standing"
TEV   "who are known to be"
REB, Peshitta   "of good repute"

The differences in these English translations reflect the two different usages of this term.

  1. "to witness to" or provide information about (cf. TEV, NIV)
  2. "to speak well of someone" (cf. Luke 4:22)

▣ "full of the Spirit" The filling of the Spirit has been mentioned several times in Acts, usually in connection with the Twelve and their preaching/teaching/reaching ministries. It denotes power for ministry. The presence of the Spirit in a person's life is detectible. There is evidence in attitude, actions, and effectiveness. Widows are important, but gospel proclamation is priority (cf. Acts 6:4). See full note on "filling" at Acts 5:17.

Special Topic: Filled

Special Topic: Molech

▣ "and of wisdom" There are two kinds of wisdom in the OT.

  1. grasp of knowledge (academic)
  2. wise living (practical)

These seven men had both!

▣ "whom we may put in charge of this task" They had a task-oriented assignment. This passage cannot be used to assert that deacons handle the business matters (KJV, "this business") of the church!

The word "task" (chraomai) means "need," not "office" (Alfred Marshall, RSV Interlinear, p. 468).

6:4 "devote ourselves" This Greek term is used in several senses.

  1. to closely associate with someone, Acts 8:13
  2. to personally serve someone, Acts 10:7
  3. to be steadfastly committed to something or someone
    1. the early disciples to each other and prayer, Acts 1:14
    2. the early disciples to the Apostles' teaching, Acts 2:42
    3. the early disciples to each other, Acts 2:46
    4. the Apostles to the ministry of prayer and the Word, Acts 6:4 (Paul uses the same word to call believers to steadfastness in prayer, Rom. 12:12; Col. 4:2).

▣ "prayer and the ministry of the word" This phrase is fronted (i.e., placed first) in the Greek sentence for emphasis. Isn't it paradoxical that it was these "seven" who were the first to catch the vision of the world mission of the gospel, not the Apostles. It was "the seven" whose preaching forced the break with Judaism, not the Apostles.

It is so shocking that the Apostles were not the initiators of the Great commission, but these Greek-speaking Jews. Acts never records them fulfilling the task assigned to them by the Apostles but instead depicts them as gospel preachers. Their qualifications seem more in line with this task than the administration and pastoral care needed by the church in Jerusalem.

Instead of bringing peace, their ministries brought conflict and persecution!

6:5 "Stephen" His name means "victor's crown." All of the "seven" had Greek names, but most Jews of the Diaspora had both a Hebrew name and a Greek name. Just the names themselves do not mean they were all Greek-speaking Jews. Reason says there may have been both groups present.

▣ "full of faith" The term faith came from an OT word (i.e., emeth) that originally meant a person whose feet were in a stable stance. It came to be used metaphorically for someone who was trustworthy, faithful, dependable, and loyal. In the NT this term is used for the believer's response to God's promise through Christ. We trust His trustworthiness! We faith His faithfulness. Stephen trusted in God's trustworthiness; therefore, he was characterized by God's character (i.e., full of faith, faithfulness).

Special Topic: Believe, Trust, Faith, and Faithfulness in the Old Testament (אמן)

▣ "full of. . .the Holy Spirit" There are many different phrases which describe the ministry of the Spirit to believers:

  1. the wooing of the Spirit (cf. John 6:44,65)
  2. the baptism of the Spirit (cf. 1 Cor. 12:13)
  3. the fruit of the Spirit (cf. Gal. 5:22-23)
  4. the gifts of the Spirit (cf. 1 Cor. 12)
  5. the filling of the Spirit (cf. Eph. 5:18)

To be full of the Spirit implies two things:

  1. that the person is saved (cf. Rom. 8:9)
  2. that the person is led by the Spirit (cf. Rom. 8:14)

It seems that one's "fullness" is related to one's continually being filled (PRESENT PASSIVE IMPERATIVE of Eph. 5:18). For "filled" see full note at Acts 5:17.

Special Topic: Filled

Special Topic: Personhood of the Spirit

▣ "Philip" There are several Philips in the NT. This one was one of the Seven. His name means "lover of horses." His ministry is told in Acts 8. He was instrumental in the revival in Samaria and a personal witness to a governmental official from Ethiopia. He is called "the evangelist" in Acts 21:8 and his daughters were also active in ministry (i.e., prophetesses, cf. Acts 21:9).

Special Topic: Women in the Bible

▣ "Prochorus" Little is known of this person. In The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, vol. 4, James Orr (ed.) says he became bishop of Nicomedia and was martyred at Antioch (p. 2457).

▣ "Nicanor" Nothing is known about this person in church history. His name is Greek and means "conqueror."

▣ "Timon" Nothing is known about this person in church history. His name is Greek and means "honorable."

▣ "Parmenas" This is a shortened form of Parmenides. Church tradition says he was martyred at Philippi during the reign of Trajan (cf. The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, vol. 4, p. 2248).

▣ "Nicholas, a proselyte from Antioch" More information may have been given about this man because his city may have been Luke's home. Being a Jewish proselyte involved three ritual acts:

  1. that the person baptized himself in the presence of witnesses
  2. that the person, if a male, was circumcised
  3. that the person, if they had opportunity, offered a sacrifice in the temple

There has been some confusion about this man in church history because there is a group of a similar name mentioned in Rev. 2:14-15. Some early church fathers (i.e., Irenaeus and Hippolytus) thought he was the founder of this heretical group. Most of the church fathers who mention a connection at all think the group may have tried to use his name to assert their founder was a leader in the Jerusalem church.

6:6 "they laid their hands on them" The grammar implies that the whole church laid hands on them (cf. Acts 13:1-3), although the referent to the PRONOUN is ambiguous.

The Roman Catholic Church has used texts like this one to assert Apostolic Succession. In Baptist life we use texts like this to assert ordination (i.e., to dedicate people to a particular ministry). If it is true that all believers are called, gifted ministers (cf. Eph. 4:11-12), then there is no distinction in the NT between "clergy" and "laity." The elitism set up and propagated by biblically unsupported ecclesiastical traditions needs to be reexamined in light of NT Scripture. Laying on of hands may denote function, but not special standing or authority. Many of our denominational traditions are historically or denominationaly-based and not a clear biblical teaching or mandate. Tradition is not a problem until it is raised to the level of Scriptural authority.

Special Topic: Laying On of Hands in the Bible

Special Topic: Ordination

÷ACTS 6:7

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: ACTS 6:7
 7The word of God kept on spreading; and the number of the disciples continued to increase greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests were becoming obedient to the faith.

6:7 "The word of God" This refers to the gospel of Jesus Christ. His life, death, resurrection, and teaching about God form the new way of viewing the Old Covenant (cf. Matt. 5:17-48). Jesus is the word (cf. John 1:1; 14:6). Christianity is a Person! See full note at Acts 4:31.

Special Topic: The Kerygma of the Early Church

▣ "kept on spreading" All three VERBS in Acts 6:7 are IMPERFECT TENSE. This is a central theme in Acts. God's word is spreading by people trusting in Christ and becoming a part of the new people covenant of God (cf. Acts 6:7; 12:24; 19:20).

This may be an allusion to God's promises to Abraham about the numerical growth of his family, who became the old covenant people of God (cf. Acts 7:17; Gen. 17:4-8; 18:18; 28:3; 35:11).

▣ "a great many of the priests were becoming obedient to the faith" This was one of the causes of the Jewish leadership (i.e., Sadducees) unrest over Christianity. Those who knew the OT well were being convinced that Jesus of Nazareth was truly the promised Messiah. The inner circle of Judaism was cracking!

The summary statements of growth may be a key to the structure of the book (cf. Acts 9:31; 12:24; 16:5; 19:20; 28:31).

▣ "the faith" This term may have several distinct connotations:

  1. its OT background means "faithfulness" or "trustworthiness"; therefore, it is used of our faithing the faithfulness of God or our trusting in the trustworthiness of God
  2. our accepting or receiving God's free offer of forgiveness in Christ
  3. faithful, godly living
  4. the collective sense of the Christian faith or the doctrinal truth about Jesus (cf. Rom. 1:5; Gal. 1:23; and Jude 3 and 20)

In several passages, such as 2 Thess. 3:2, it is difficult to know which sense Paul had in mind.

Special Topic: The Faith

Special Topic: The NT Canon

Special Topic: Faith, Believe, or Trust

÷ACTS 6:8-15

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: ACTS 6:8-15
 8And Stephen, full of grace and power, was performing great wonders and signs among the people. 9But some men from what was called the Synagogue of the Freedmen, including both Cyrenians and Alexandrians, and some from Cilicia and Asia, rose up and argued with Stephen. 10But they were unable to cope with the wisdom and the Spirit with which he was speaking. 11Then they secretly induced men to say, "We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses and against God." 12And they stirred up the people, the elders and the scribes, and they came up to him and dragged him away and brought him before the Council. 13They put forward false witnesses who said, "This man incessantly speaks against this holy place and the Law; 14for we have heard him say that this Nazarene, Jesus, will destroy this place and alter the customs which Moses handed down to us." 15And fixing their gaze on him, all who were sitting in the Council saw his face like the face of an angel.

6:8 "full of grace and power" "Full of grace" refers to the blessing of God on his life and ministry.

This term "power" relates to the next phrase, "performing great signs and wonders."

▣ "was performing great wonders and signs" This is an IMPERFECT TENSE (like Acts 6:7). This possibly occurred before his choice as one of the Seven. Stephen's gospel message was continually corroborated by his person (i.e., full of grace) and power (i.e., signs and wonders).

Special Topic: Sign (OT)

Special Topic: Wonderful Things (OT)

6:9 "some men from. . .some from" There is the question concerning how one interprets how many groups rose up against Stephen.

  1. one synagogue (men from all countries listed)
  2. two synagogues
    1. of Jews from Cyrenia and Alexandria
    2. of Jews from Cilicia and Asia (Paul was from Cilicia)
  3. one synagogue, but two groups
  4. five separate synagogues

The Greek GENITIVE MASCULINE PLURAL ARTICLE (tōn) is repeated twice.

▣ "from what is called" The reason for this phrase is that the term "freedman" is a Latin word; therefore, it had to be interpreted for clarity. Apparently these were Jews who had been taken into foreign lands as slaves (military or economic), but had now returned to Palestine as freedmen, but still Koine Greek was their first language.

6:10 Not only was Stephen's gospel message confirmed by power signs, but apparently it was logically persuasive. Acts 7 is an example of his preaching.

▣ "the Spirit" In the Greek text there is no way to distinguish capitals; therefore, this is the interpretation of the translators. A capital "S" would refer to the Holy Spirit, a small "s" to the human spirit (KJV, NRSV footnote, REB, cf. Acts 7:59; 17:16; 18:25; Rom. 1:9; 8:16; 1 Cor. 2:11; 5:4; 16:18; 2 Cor. 2:13; 7:13; 12:18; Gal. 6:18; Phil. 4:23). This may be an allusion to Pro. 20:27.

Special Topic: Spirit (pneuma) in the NT

Special Topic: Personhood of the Spirit

6:11 "they secretly induced men to say" The term "induced" can mean

  1. to bribe (cf. Louw and Nida, Lexicon, vol. 1, pp. 577-578)
  2. to scheme secretly (cf. Bauer, Arndt, Gingrich, and Danker, A Greek-English Lexicon, p. 843)

This is the same technique used against Jesus (cf. Matt. 26:61) and Paul (cf. Acts 21:28). Their charge was a violation of Exod. 20:7, which carried the death penalty.

▣ "We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses" Stephen's sermon in Acts 7 answers this charge. Whether Acts 7 was typical of Stephen's gospel preaching or a special sermon meant to answer this specific charge is uncertain, but Stephen probably used the OT often to assert Jesus' Messiahship.

▣ "and against God" These Jews put God after Moses! Their very sentence structure reveals the perception problem. Moses' Law had become ultimate.

6:12 "the elders and the scribes. . .the Council" The phrase "elders and scribes" is often a shortened designation for the members of the Sanhedrin, which is referred to in this context by the term "the Council." It was the religious authority of the Jewish nation in the Roman period before A.D. 70. It was made up of

  1. the High Priest(s) and his family
  2. local wealthy land owners and civic leaders
  3. local scribes

It totaled seventy leaders from the Jerusalem area. See Special Topic: The Sanhedrin at Acts 4:5.

Special Topic: The Sanhedrin

Special Topic: Elder

Special Topic: Scribes

6:13 "this man" This is a Semitic way to show contempt. This phrase is often used of Jesus.

▣ "speaks against this holy place and the Law" This phrase is an extension of the charge in Acts 6:11. This may refer to Stephen's affirmation of Jesus' words about the Temple's destruction recorded in Luke 19:44-48 (also Mark 13:2), or Jesus' threat in Matt. 26:61; 27:40; Mark 14:58; 15:29; John 2:19 (cf. Acts 6:14). Jesus saw Himself as the "new Temple," the new center of worship, the new meeting place of God and humanity (cf. Mark 8:31; 9:31; 10:34). God's judgment was coming on Herod's building.

Stephen's preaching about a full and free forgiveness in Jesus was probably the source of "speaks against the Law." The gospel message reduces "the Mosaic Covenant" to a historical witness instead of a means of salvation (cf. Galatians 3 and the NT book of Hebrews).

For first century Jews this was radical teaching, blasphemy! This truly departs from a typical OT understanding of monotheism, salvation, and the unique place of Israel. The NT has a radical reoriented focus (i.e., Jesus not Israel, grace not human merit).

6:14 In a sense their charges were true! These two charges were designed to stir up both the Sadducees (i.e., "destroy this place") and the Pharisees (i.e., "alter the customs which Moses handed down").

▣ "this Nazarene, Jesus" See Special Topic: Jesus the Nazarene

6:15 "fixing their gaze on him" This is a literary device often used by Luke. It denotes uninterrupted attention (cf. Luke 4:20; 22:56; Acts 1:10; 3:4,12; 6:15; 7:55; 10:4; 11:6; 13:9; 14:9; 23:1).

▣ "his face like the face of an angel" This may have been similar to

  1. Moses' face glowing after visiting with YHWH (cf. Exod. 34:29-35, 2 Cor. 3:7)
  2. Jesus' face and body glowing during His transfiguration (cf. Matt. 17:2; Luke 9:29)
  3. the messenger angel of Daniel 10:5-6

This was a way of metaphorically denoting one who had been in the presence of God.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

These discussion questions are provided to help you think through the major issues of this section of the book. They are meant to be thought-provoking, not definitive.

  1. Why did the early church choose their best spiritual men to serve tables?
  2. Why is there tension in rapid growth?
  3. What is the purpose of laying on hands?
  4. Why was Stephen attacked?

 

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