The Appointment of the First Seven Deacons, 1-7
6:1 Now in those days, when the disciples were growing in number, a complaint arose on the part of the Greek-speaking Jews against the native Hebraic Jews, because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food.
‘The Grecian Jews and the Hebraic Jews appear to be two cultural groups within Christian (and Jewish) society. We may assume that the disciples and other native Palestinian Jews spoke Aramaic (a language related to Hebrew) as their first language, whereas many of those converted from the visitors at the Pentecost festival, for instance, could be called Grecian or Hellenistic Jews, and their main language was Greek. Both groups were Jewish.’ (NBC)
‘Although Luke has mentioned before the way that the Christians shared among themselves (Acts 2:44-47 and Acts 4:32-35), it is only here that we get a glimpse of the scale and regularity of this ministry.’ (NBC)
6:2 So the twelve called the whole group of the disciples together and said, “It is not right for us to neglect the word of God to wait on tables. 6:3 But carefully select from among you, brothers, seven men who are well-attested, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may put in charge of this necessary task. 6:4 But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.”
‘The contrast between prayer and the ministry of the word on the one hand and to wait on tables on the other should not be read as meaning that one task is inferior to the other. In many modern cultures, the phrase ‘waiting on tables’ brings to mind servants or hired help at restaurants. This image is wrong in several ways. For one thing, it is the job of the head of the household to distribute the food (thus Jesus’ actions at the Last Supper of taking, blessing, breaking and distributing; Lk. 22:19; cf. 9:16 and 24:30). Furthermore, the word used here for ‘table’ has two special meanings: the dining table and also a money-changer’s table (Mk. 11:15; the same word is used in the sense of ‘bank’ in Lk. 19:23). Thus it may be that ‘to sit at managers’ desks’ is as valid a paraphrase of the text as ‘to wait on tables’. Although the passage mentions food, the distribution may well have been in form of money for food, and certainly in 4:35-37 it was money which the apostles received towards this aid. Such an interpretation would also fit better with the gifts required of the Seven: as well as being full of the Spirit, they would need wisdom in their management roles.’ (NBC)
6:5 The proposal pleased the entire group, so they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, with Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas, a Gentile convert to Judaism from Antioch. 6:6 They stood these men before the apostles, who prayed and placed their hands on them.
Undesigned coincidence? ‘In Acts 6:5, it is curious that all the names mentioned are Grecian, even though this is not mentioned as a reason for choosing them. This is explained by the previous mention that it was the Grecians who felt aggrieved that there widows were not being taken care of (6:1).’ (See here)
6:7 The word of God continued to spread, the number of disciples in Jerusalem increased greatly, and a large group of priests became obedient to the faith.
The faith = the gospel, cf. Rom 1:5; Gal 1:23; 1 Tim 3:9; Jude 3.
Stephen is Arrested, 8-15
We remember Stephen as the first Christian martyr. We should not forget, however, that his unjust and untimely death had a profoundly stimulating effect on the spread of the gospel: for it had a significant effect on Saul, and it also led to the scattering of the believers (and therefore of their message).
6:8 Now Stephen, full of grace and power, was performing great wonders and miraculous signs among the people.
Full of grace and power – He has already been described as one of those who were ‘full of the Spirit and wisdom’ (Acts 6:3), and ‘full of faith and the Holy Spirit’ (Acts 6:5). The present description is remarkable, for we might not expect to find such a combination of ‘sweetness and strength’ (Campbell Morgan, cited by Stott) in the same person.
Stephen was performing great wonders and miraculous signs. This is the first time in Acts that someone other than Christ or the apostles is described as working miracles.
6:9 But some men from the Synagogue of the Freedmen (as it was called), both Cyrenians and Alexandrians, as well as some from Cilicia and the province of Asia, stood up and argued with Stephen.
Freedmen were liberated slaves and their descendants.
Those from Cilicia might have included Saul.
6:10 Yet they were not able to resist the wisdom and the Spirit with which he spoke. 6:11 Then they secretly instigated some men to say, “We have heard this man speaking blasphemous words against Moses and God.”
As Stott observes, the appointment of Stephen as a deacon, attending to the practical needs of the widows, did not lead to his resignation as a preacher.
6:12 They incited the people, the elders, and the experts in the law; then they approached Stephen, seized him, and brought him before the council. 6:13 They brought forward false witnesses who said, “This man does not stop saying things against this holy place and the law. 6:14 For we have heard him saying that Jesus the Nazarene will destroy this place and change the customs that Moses handed down to us.”
Not being able to resist the substance and power of Stephen’s message (v10), they start a smear campaign against him. For ‘when arguments fail, mud has often seemed an excellent substitute’ (Stott).
“This man does not stop saying things against this holy place and the law” – ‘Stephen did not speak against the temple, but only declared that God was not confined to an earthly temple since heaven was His home and throne (Acts 7:48-50). Stephen actually supported the Mosaic law and its teaching, especially as they pointed forward to Christ (Acts 7:37, 38).’ (New Geneva)
With regard to the accusation that Stephen was speaking against ‘this holy place’ – the temple, ‘Stephen responds both that the temple is not the focus of God’s revelation and that history proves that God’s people reject the deliverers he sends them (Acts 7:9, 27, 35–37). He points out that God can reveal himself anywhere, including Mesopotamia, Egypt or a “holy place” on a desert mountain (Acts 7:2, 10–17, 33). Paraphrasing Amos 5:25–27, Stephen warns that Israel had a tabernacle in the wilderness but turned it into a further occasion for idolatry (Acts 7:40–44); he then reminds his hearers that God did not allow David to build the temple but Solomon (Acts 7:46–47), and that God never needed an earthly temple anyway (Acts 7:48–49; Is 66:1–2). Like Jesus (Mk 12:10–11 with Ps 118:19–27; Jn 14:23), Stephen undoubtedly anticipated the new temple Jesus will build among his people (Eph 2:19–22; Rev 21:3).’ (DBI, art. Tabernacle’)
“We have heard him saying that Jesus the Nazarene will destroy this place” – Jesus had indeed spoken about the destruction of the temple (Mk. 14:58; cf. 15:29; Mt. 12:6; 26:61). But he meant the temple of his body (Jn 2:20f) – both his physical body (which was to be raised to life) and his spiritual body, his church.
Did Jesus intend to “change the customs that Moses handed down”? Not to disrespect them, but to honour them. Not to abolish them, but to fulfil them (Mt 5:17).
It is clear even from these false accusations that Stephen was aware of Jesus’ teaching (as now recorded in the Gospels), and that his own teaching was consistent with that of his Master.
6:15 All who were sitting in the council looked intently at Stephen and saw his face was like the face of an angel.
They saw his face was like the face of an angel. Stephen’s very face looks like that of Moses (Ex 34:29ff), whom has been accused of disrespecting! His appearance is a token of divine approval.